It's hard for Randy Jackson to try and describe to someone what he felt, embraced by the ancient walls of the Vatican, performing a solo part while his peers in the Kenai Central High School choir looked on.
"I just felt so overwhelmed because of how unbelievably lucky I was with everything," Jackson, a junior, said last week.
Jackson was one of several dozen KCHS choir students who spent two weeks touring and singing in different Italian cities through the end of March.
He and his classmates had just arrived back home, finishing the long journey around the world with a 12-hour bus trip from Fairbanks to Kenai after their flight from Anchorage to Seattle was diverted north by a fuming Mount Redoubt.
Jackson said he'll carry his memories from Europe with him for the rest of his life, and said he expects that to be the case for his classmates as well.
The trip was perhaps extra special for Jackson, however.
Only a month prior to boarding a plane for the long trip to Palermo in Sicily, Jackson was a passenger in a devastating collision on the Sterling Highway on Feb. 16.
The wreck took the life of a Kenai woman, while sending the driver of the car Jackson was riding in, along with four of his classmates and three Wasilla residents in another vehicle, to the hospital.
Jackson broke both his collarbones, his right wrist and two temporal bones in his skull.
He still sports a black brace over his wrist.
His injuries were such that he and his parents weren't expecting him to make it overseas.
"Ever since the accident, my parents were kind of trying to let me down calmly," he said, explaining that his parents offered up contingency plans and proposed vacation ideas they might pursue later when he was feeling stronger.
He underwent numerous CT scans to monitor his recovery, and two weeks before the trip, Jackson's doctors said there was hope yet -- he was healing faster than they expected.
The Tuesday before the group was supposed to depart, his doctors gave him the OK.
As though a 10-hour time zone change isn't enough to stress someone in good health, Jackson's doctors were particularly concerned for him.
"My fatigue was pretty bad with the jet lag and I hadn't been walking a whole lot after the accident. It was pretty tiring," he said of the trip and his first few days in Italy.
Jackson used a wheelchair when he got there, while his classmates took turns pushing him around.
The choir sang in six different cities, visiting several others along the way. They had the chance to see one-of-a-kind architecture, sample the cuisine and mingle with Italian students.
The high point of the trip for Jackson, however, came at the end, performing his solo in the Vatican.
"It was the most terrifying thing I've ever done, being in the most influential church in the world, and I got to sing a solo in it. I was really afraid," he said. "It's a story you can tell your grandchildren."
He knew as well it was an experience he was extremely fortunate to have.
"I probably shouldn't have made it out of the car crash as I did," he said.
Dante Petri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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