Earlier this month, my friends Wayne and Megan took a business and pleasure excursion to Munich, Germany.


Wayne went over ten days ahead to do some sightseeing and get acclimated before Megan, International Education Coordinator at Cottey College, was scheduled to arrive with sixty students for their planned week of tours and study modules.


But, as the coronavirus was beginning to spread in Europe, College administrators decided to cancel the Cottey program, so Megan bought her own ticket and flew over to spend some planned vacation time with Wayne.


Wayne kept me, and the members of our Talking Heads discussion group, informed about their travels and travails in emails


They started out quite playful. As group member and world traveler, Bert, always sent back photos of exquisite regional meals he was having when overseas, Wayne sent a whimsical photo of a large pretzel and apple he’d gotten at the hostel where he was staying in Munich.


Knowing Wayne loves a good pun, I emailed back, asking if Megan snuck the apple out in cider backpack, and commented that it was good to see he was twisted and fruity as ever.


His response: “With all due respect, I would be remiss were I not to point out that it might be thou who art twisted.”


I emailed back, “Thou dost speaketh the truth. I am but a coiled version of man. A grooved jar lid in a world of pulltabs and pop tops. An 1106 Suzy Q in the world of fast food, frozen French fries.”


Wayne’s next email reflected mounting COVID-19 concerns, albeit with both he and Megan’s sardonic sense of humor. “On her flight over, Megan learned of the U.S.'s European travel ban. One day later and she would not have gotten on the plane. “’Well, Wayne,’ she said, ‘you were having a wonderful time until I got here.’”


The following emails were again dire and droll: “Time may now be running short for us to be able to fly to the U.S. out of this part of the world. Our plan is to head to London which is so far unaffected by the travel ban. Just a few hours ago we learned that Trump may add it to the list. Europe went from no travel advisory, not even level one, to level three, in an instant. Megan was in Russia when the Soviet Union broke up. She'd hate to miss a pandemic!”


Turned out Great Britain was added: “Here's a good one. As soon as we got off the plane in London, Megan got a text from her sister, "Did you hear that Trump just put a travel ban on Great Britain, too?" The ban starts at midnight, the day of our flight, but that doesn't really affect us.’


“Today we were out in the London weather — cold wind and rain developing — and Megan got mad at herself for leaving her hat at the hostel. ‘I'm going to get an ear infection, then I'll run a fever and they'll think I have coronavirus and put me into quarantine!” She looked at me in amazement as I pulled a spare stocking cap out of my daypack. (Having known Wayne for sometime, I was not surprised. I did ask him later if he was a Boy Scout. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Eagle.’)


The email continued: “Under the circumstances, we're not much in the mood for sightseeing. But we thought we should at least walk down to the Thames and maybe see London Bridge. As it turned out we got to Saint Paul's Cathedral just in time for Evensong. The voices of the mixed choir, adults and pre-pubescent boys, filled the transept as we sat under the huge dome of the cathedral. The harmony reverberated for six seconds after the last Amen. (Yes, I counted.) The sermon was about Pilgrimages — about how the purpose is not always the goal, but rather about the journey itself.


They got back on March 16: “We made it to Dallas and even, surprisingly, made our connecting flight to Joplin. We had seen news of long lines of people waiting for their health screening in Dallas, but by the time we got there, lines were short and screening was minimal. We filled out a form. We checked boxes that said we did not have a fever of 100.4F or greater, and that we have not been in contact with anyone known to have coronavirus. When we told the screener we'd been to Germany he had to look it up on his list to see whether we got the handout. He gave us a hard-to-read Xerox of a photographed page, that "recommends that [we] stay home and self-monitor." That's all we got — a recommendation!


“Embarrassingly, we're running a little low on toilet paper. We've heard that panic buyers have created a shortage. I guess it's time for all those fast-food napkins in the console between the front seats to shine. There's talk of a knock-on effect —coronavirus may bring back the popularity of the print media. Megan says, "No way one Thursday Morning Sun is going to last two people for one day.”


Well there you have it; a modern pilgrimage tale told through the considerable narrative talents of Wayne Bockelman, and shared sense of humor and irony of his sidekick, Megan Corrigan. Quite a pair — at times Frodo and Sam, others Bert and Ernie, others Vladimir and Estragon, others Butch Bockelman and the Cottey College Kid.


They certainly gave credence to that St. Paul’s sermon that it’s about the journey not the destination. Still, we all breathed a little easier (pun intended) when they arrived back in The Little Balkans.


They’re now self-quarantined right up the block on Euclid so I told them I’m good for helping out with trips to the grocery store for food. Or to SEK Recycling for newsprint — which got me wondering about a possible Sunday morning exchange hereabouts: “Did you read J.T. Knoll’s column in the paper today, honey?” “Yeah, I read it before I used it. I found the article more abrasive than usual.”


—J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and celebrant. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Training in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-231-0499, jtknoll@swbell.net, or 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, KS 66762