Everybody has a rough patch every now and then. When you get older, sometimes you might even come to expect it. It might be that your finances have caught up with you, health concerns rear their nasty little head every once in awhile and family tensions sometimes seem to feel as if they’ve reached a boiling point. You might even begin to get down on yourself as you read the headlines and wonder just what purpose you’ve served and if anything you’ve done with the time you’ve spent on the planet was of any worth.

But then, just when you’re in the throes of despair and wondering how you’re going to cope with the next day as you sweat through the sheets at night comes a flicker of hope. The proverbial ray of sunshine that splits the darkness and sheds a beam of light your way and it makes things better for just a little while. Those things that were bothering you seem to seek shelter in the back of your head and for a little while at least, the world seems to be a better place.

I live for those moments.

The other day, I got a call from the wee one’s mom. Besides the usual stuff that single parents discuss such as schedules and upcoming events, she informed me that Anna was the only kid in her school to be nominated by her teachers for something called the “People to People” program. Apparently it’s a pretty big deal and involves a series of interviews from the folks who run the program and very few are selected. If she makes it through the process, she’ll be spending three weeks in the summer of 2007 in The Netherlands with the other kids chosen for the program.

I gotta tell ya, I consider myself a pretty “tough guy”. Physically, I’m pretty big and have always been athletic in nature. I made it through four years in the United States Marine Corp and have faced up to many challenges thrown my way in the interim. I’ve survived three or four heart attacks (I’ve lost count) and dealt with the pains and subsequent recovery from open heart surgery. I can drink and curse with the best of them and would rather eat a rare steak than a tossed salad any day of my life.

On the flip side, I’m also an old softie, a cream puff whose eyes mist up pretty easy when it comes to the so-called “sentimental shit” and would rather help an old lady across the street than engage in any kind of physical violence. Yeah, I’m a real contradiction in terms but when it comes to my kid and news like that, I allow myself a little bit of pride in knowing that both me and her mom, while we each have our own separate way of doing things, we must be doing something right.

While we don’t have Anna’s wooden shoes packed just yet, that’s probably enough for now.

Now, on with the show…

"I have long believed, as have many before me, that peaceful relations between nations requires understanding and mutual respect between individuals." President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Founder of People to People International

What is it?

Well, at first glance and if you were to believe their website, it sounds like some kind of liberal plot where they use words like “enhance international understanding”, “friendship through education” and participation in “humanitarian activities” that involves something called an “exchange of ideas” with people from different countries and cultures from around the world to celebrate both our similarities and, more maybe importantly, our differences.

Hmm, sound suspicious to you?

I mean, besides Eisenhower, the founders of People to People included some other pretty notorious types. I’m not one to name names but the roster includes Walt Disney, Bob Hope and Charles M. Schulz and some other pretty shady people involved in (uh-oh) acadamia. It’s a privately funded non-profit and non partisan organization that has been around since 1956. Their goal is to dismiss their minions all around the globe to try and see what makes other people and cultures tick. Sorta like a “get to know your neighbor” program only on a worldwide basis.

Start ‘em young

Much like our friends in the tobacco industry, McDonalds and our friends at Coca-Cola and other assorted conglomerates, the folks at People to People realized a long time ago that if you get a young kid “branded”, chances are you’re going to have a customer for life. With that in mind, they started something called the “Student Ambassador Program.

Selected recruits then travel overseas in groups of thirty to forty for two to three weeks where they shed some light on their own way of life and learn about practices that take place in the host country. Supposedly, by doing so, they are expected to build up some self confidence, appreciate the world they themselves live in, expose themselves to a world they’ve only seen on television or if they’re lucky, read about in books and take that knowledge back with them and pass it on.

Call it the aging hippie in me but it sounds like a pretty lofty goal, one that might, as Elvis Costello said, make you ask the question “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?”

So if you happen to bump into me on a chance encounter on the street in the next few days and my chest if puffed up more than usual, that’s the reason why. Like I said, the odds are pretty long that she’ll make it but just by being considered , I feel like somehow I’ve done of very small part of my job of being a father.



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