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What I learned from standing in line for 4.5 hours

September 29, 2015

Written by Marykate O’Malley, mother of three wonderful children, Gladwyne PA 


Before| Radnor Train Station

This is what I told my children as we were approaching hour 4 – “this could be your college essay one day! What I learned from standing in line for 4 hours! What would you write about? What did you learn from this experience?” Too close to it for perspective in the moment, and even now a day out when I think about how it took 4.5 hours to move 3 city blocks I feel PTSD closing in. I never liked crowds. After this experience, I may never leave my house again. But what can I say is, we survived, everyone was fine, we made it to mass, and you could say maybe we did learn some things.

Maya Angelou said ‘I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.’ I think the same can be said of standing in line for 4 hours. It can bring out the worst in all of us. Or possibly the best. Especially if you are waiting to see the Pope. And you are next to a home for the elderly and nurses wave out of windows and the crowd cheers wildly and waves back. And then someone holds out an Eagles flag from the top floor and the crowd roars. Then people hold up babies high above their heads, and more cheering. And a man gets on another man’s shoulder and cheers and laughter follow. The prize went to the person in the crowd of thousands who held up a life-size cut out of Pope Francis – that got the loudest applause, even more than the cherub babies. People chanted ‘We want Papa, we want Papa!’. We all sang, “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” and the wave made it’s way through at least 7 times, starting at the Security gate where we stood shoulder to shoulder, thousands deep down three city blocks, and back again. We did tree pose. Pope yoga we called it. Stretched, jogged in place, and chair pose. Because if you can’t sit in a chair, well, there is always chair pose.

We brought stools, a gift from my mother, along with the tickets to mass that she got for us. We thought the stools would be for mass. They ended up sustaining my children in line. We brought food we thought we would have while we waited inside, having given ourselves ample time. We ate while in line, sharing apples with our new neighbors and friends after being told that Security wouldn’t allow them inside because you know, people could throw them at the Pope. No comment. (My mom taught me if I don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all).

Thank God for the stools!


So I won’t say what I was thinking but what I will say is there were police officers who worked 14 hours straight the day before and then arrived at 4:00 a.m. for their scheduled shift. Security at check in worked over 14 hours and were there again the next day, doing their job with humor and understanding. The National Guard was there, Wawa (shout out to Wawa!!) handing out waters, Septa employees, World Meeting volunteers, everyone executing against one unified goal – getting everyone where they wanted to be, safely.

In the mosh pit we played hand games, hand clap games, “I am thinking of an animal” for hours. Seriously. For hours. I met an assistant Dean from Villanova University and we chatted about their stellar engineering program. I met a nice couple and their daughter from Lafayette Hill and found my babysitter across the crowd from us. There was a man next to us whose wife was singing in the choir, and some friends who came in together and offered motherly moral support to me (my children, as so many others, waited so long, and so patiently) And then in the great multitude, God sent us Therese, and her husband Frank, both MBA students at Villanova. As I told her as we approached the final Security check in, “God knew we needed you next to us in this line.”

We got through the first check point, and the golden couple followed us. I told them, “I feel like I am on the Titanic and just got on a lifeboat” looking back at the throngs of people still waiting to be told they could move forward. She laughed and we, well okay, Amanda and her became the best of friends. Or maybe they already were, and finally found one another at the corner of 21st and Cherry Street. She was funny, and kind, and my Amanda’s middle name is Rose for St Therese of the Little Flower. Which I took to be a sign, divine intervention. Therese provided entertainment for hours. At a time when my children were most weary. And she was gracious, and engaging, and truly a God send. Amanda and Therese talked about what she and her husband could be for Halloween (this filled at least a solid hour) peanut butter and jelly, burger and fries, Barbie and Ken (they could be Barbie and Ken). They talked about hobbies, and what Amanda wants to be when she grows us (architect is the flavor du jour). They shared jokes and riddles and then Amanda asked to braid her hair and I needed to step in and intervene. Amanda taught her a hand counting game, and that filled another hour. The crowd separated us and then I saw Therese making her way through the crowd to us, to Amanda, saying “if I don’t see you again, I want you to know how much I enjoying meeting you, getting to know you and wish best of luck with everything.” A hug followed. An angel.



First Security Stop

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What I sent to my brother when he asked how we were doing.

Thank you for the moral support Tim and Anne!


We talked about the longest lines we ever stood in. And how every line we will ever stand in our whole life will be nothing compared to this line. We said, if someone complains about a long line you can say, this is nothing! I waited for 4.5 hours once in a line! Or the next time, we think we are tired and getting impatient, we will remember this line, and know we will be okay. And as we approached the gate, for the last 30 minutes, the discussion turned to your college essay being what I learned from standing in line for 4.5 hours.


I learned that life is sometimes both a journey and a destination. We thought the reason we were going was to see the Pope. And learned the reason we were going was to find out when you stand next to people from all over the world for 4.5 hours you realize, we are all essentially the same. And that the world isn’t so big after all. It is really quite small.

I learned that if God wants to bring you together with someone, He will. Even with over a million people. My mother took a different train, at a different time, from a different location and ended up 100 yards from us at the same check point line. None of this planned. We talked and texted throughout the line and then once through Security I turned to see her standing there beside us.

I learned that sometimes God looks like the homeless man on the cardboard box we passed walking to the parkway. Who was smiling a bright and radiant smile and holding a sign that read “SMILE and pass it on! It doesn’t cost a thing!” My daughter walked over to him and shared a granola bar, and he thanked her, then looked to me, smiled and waved. And that smile will carry me and sustain me through many a hardship. It carried me through a 4 hour line, and disappointments, and missing parades and my youngest who said when we got inside, after all that waiting, “wait we aren’t going to see the Pope?” His smile even got me through that. And what is there to say to your child but we are here together, to celebrate this together, to experience all of it. And we see him here on this screen and just being here with all these other people from around the world, in our hometown, celebrating mass is something very special. And God knows how hard you worked to be here. And you will be rewarded for that one day.

I learned that as a mother you want everything for your children. And despite all you do, and all your planning and diligent work, things don’t always go the way you intended, or wanted them to. And if you can embrace that, and accept what is, not what you want it to be, you will find that you can smile and pass it on. After all, it doesn’t cost a thing.


We did arrive in time for mass, found my mom (miraculous!) and that evening, once home, Amanda gave me a picture she drew for me. It was a drawling of me, with a peace sign for the sign of peace and  a smiley face, under it reads, “smile, pass it on, it doesn’t cost a thing”.

And next time I am checking with my Uncle Bill, another person God knows I need (truly an angel on earth – just because we can’t see the wings it doesn’t mean they aren’t there) who arrived at the same time as us and took another route – another check point and got in – in 5 minutes!! He is a walking human google maps – truly – next time – maybe in Dublin :) But then we wouldn’t have seen my mom, and went to mass with her, and met so many amazing people. #gowithGod


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So you too can experience it as well :) 2.5 hours took us from here



To here

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But no complaints! Keep smiling :)

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  1. Anne Schenendorf

      on September 29, 2015 8:40 pm

    And the greatest of these is love. Pope Francis would be proud. God for sure is. And me, standing in his huge shadow is overflowing with pride and love for you dear sis. I love this. I am SOOO grateful you had stools. As Jacky says, you will never forget that day…


  2. Marykate

      on October 6, 2015 9:19 pm

    Jacky is a wise one! Was well worth all of it. Which I guess is always true in life – it’s always worth it. Love you dear sis. XXOO


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