Saturday, March 24, 2007

I was sitting at lunch today...

I was sitting at lunch today looking over my draft of last night's post about joy and fun. It struck me that it might appear that I was thumping my chest saying look at what I’ve done. Know that this was never the intention of my post.

My hope was to provide something to consider if you might ever find yourself hanging out in the dark recesses of doubt and insecurity. With that in mind, let me elaborate on my personal discovery in that moment.

When I hit bottom yesterday, Christina gave me a loving nudge that reminded me of the people that surround me everyday. Extraordinary, loving people. I know I said that yesterday, but it’s worth repeating. Each of us are surrounded by them every day. They love us unconditionally.

There are some that we know. They’re obvious like the family, friends and co-workers that I mentioned yesterday. But there are many more than we might imagine. Your support structure could include people we’ve long since forgotten like teachers, old neighbors, classmates and distant family. People that we haven’t thought of in years. But they might just as easily be total strangers, like fire fighters, police officers and social workers. Many are seemingly unrelated, people you may never meet face to face. These are the ones that I want to talk about.

Yesterday at Disney’s California Adventure, I experience something that could have only been possible because of a group of caring, loving human beings. Disney produced Golden Dreams, a short film about the dreams that have and continue to make California great. The film was both calming and inspiring. So much so, that its closing song pushed me to a level of emotion that I rarely reach. It was an awe-inspiring moment.

I’ll be the first to admit that I often wear empathy on my sleeve, usually in the form of tears wiped aware when something truly moves or inspires me. It’s happened while watching television, a movie or a live show. It might have come during a sporting event or while reading a particularly poignant story. This experience yesterday however was one of the more intense moments and came at absolutely the right point to carry me the full 180º from earlier in the day. I found myself at the point of almost outright sobbing, the big loud stuff that you find at funerals. Like most people, I find it uncomfortable totally loosing it in the presence of total strangers in a darkened theater, fortunately I held on and when the end of the film came, I was able to regain my composure and exit the theater. I have to say though that while restrained, that release gave me the lift that I needed to complete the journey that Christina had started me on two hours earlier.

It would be an understatement to say that this moment in the theater would not have been possible without the caring, loving producers, writers, technicians and performers that created it. The emotions that I experienced could only emerge from the core of our existence and in this case it was triggered by a group of people that I’ve never met, but am now forever grateful to because their gift disguise as a theme park movie, made my day and I am now better as a result. The best part to all of this is that this same experience is there for anyone who enters that theater and watches this same film. For some this film might not be that big a deal, but for those that it does touch, move or inspire, it can be a huge lift. For those that it doesn’t connect with, not to worry, since there are plenty of other people out there ready and waiting to touch move and inspire them when they need it most.

And in the end, the world is a better place because of the support that we provide for each other.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

I swung a full 180º and back today

It’s been a long day. I swung a full 180º and back today and am now both exhausted and exhilarated. It took a while to get rolling, but better late than never. The sun was shining and the peaks of the surrounding San Gabriel Mountains were clearly visible. It was a nice change of pace after four days of overcast skies and damp weather.

After an early lunch I began my journey to Anaheim to spend the day at Disneyland. As I pulled out of the McDonald’s parking lot, I decided to take a quick detour to a local CompUSA that was going out of business. Thought this would be a good opportunity to scout out the mic that I’d been planning to buy for my iPod, especially since it was likely to be on sale. And then the wheels began to come off of my cart.

I got a call that one of my projects was in trouble. After a series of phone calls we got it back on track, but I was really bothered that I’d not been more on top of things and had left room for an issue to pop up at all. Being bummed like this, I was ready to return to the hotel and crawl back into bed.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for a call from my wonderful wife Christina. Being aware of the situation, she was checking in on me. She encouraged me to go to Disneyland anyway and in the process, kicked me in the proverbial butt. What I realized while sitting in that CompUSA parking lot, feeling sorry for myself, was how supportive a group of family, friends and extraordinary co-workers I had surrounding me.

After my trip to Disney’s California Adventure that afternoon, I had come a full circle. I had gone from upbeat to the dumps and back to joyful and inspired. It was quite exhausting, but a very rewarding experience and a day worth sharing with all of you in my blog.

It reminded me that JOY and FUN live in how we're being, and not in the space or circumstances surrounding around us. While the environment might help us along, the real joy comes from deep inside of you and can exist at any time, in any situation and under any circumstance. When we realize that and let it happen unconditionally, the world is a better place.

I got it. Thanks to all, especially Christina for helping me to see that again.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

An afternoon at the Norton Simon Museum

Vacation day two…

I just struggled to get up this morning. I don’t know if it was because I didn’t have a real plan for the day or that I was just tired from yesterday, but today got off to a slow start. I did get a bit of work in as promised, but I also wanted to take in at least one local attraction. I decided that the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena would be a good place to start.

I have to admit that I’m not a huge museum buff, especially by myself, but I decided to be open to new things and this would be a good test. This place was totally fascinating and well worth the 3 ½ hours spent exploring the various galleries.

While they don’t have a reciprocal agreement with my Chicago Art Institute membership, as a student, I got in for free, which was a welcome offer. At the end of my visit, I am convinced that it would have been worth every penny of the regular $8 adult admission.

The Norton Simon museum is widely regarded as one of the world's greatest private art collections and spans more than 2,000 years. As I only focused on the upper floor of the museum, much of what I saw ranged from the 14th through the 20th century. Some of it I didn’t understand at all, but fortunately many pieces feature brief descriptions beyond the name, date and artist. They give you insight into the image, the background on the subject or details about the artist at the time he created the piece.

The most engaging images for me personally were several portraits that were startlingly real. The often seemed to jump off the canvas and I was awestruck by the amount of patience these men and women had in the creation of their masterpieces (and I assure you, each is a masterpiece).

Among those really stood out for me were the School of Caravaggio’s “A Geographer”

“Portrait of a Young Man” by Dutch painter Frans Hal.

Dutch painter Jan van Bijlert’s “Man in Armor Holding a Pike”.

and finally “St. Joseph and the Infant Christ” by Giovanni Battista Gaulli, a 17th Century Italian painter. While the first three paintings are cool because of the realism, this last one of St. Joseph and the Infant Christ is cool on a couple of different levels. First I’d never seen an image like this. Usually when you see the Infant Christ, he’s with the Madonna. This image has a warmth and humanity that I think made it more real than similar images with the Madonna. It’s an especially moving image, one that will stand out in my mind for a long time.

There is so much more to write about my visit to the Norton Simon Museum today, but it will have to wait until later. If you are in Southern California I encourage you to visit this world class museum in Pasadena. You will not be disappointed.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

In the Shadow of Mt. Baldy...

I got closure on my Friday evening adventure, by following through on my commitment to attend Mass this morning. Given a choice of half a dozen Catholic churches in the Pomona, Upland, Claremont area, it only seemed appropriate to attend St. Anthony's directly beneath Mt. Baldy. Thanks to the parishioners for welcoming me into their community for this morning's 7:30 Mass.

Friday night's experience continues to give me pause to reflect on who I am, why I'm here and the mark that I will leave on the world. Life is good...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Just because a road appears on a map...

Just because a road appears on a map, does not mean that it will always be paved.

Coming to Southern California with plans to visit Disneyland at some point during my stay, I didn't expect to have a white knuckle EEEEEEEE-ticket ride last night in the San Bernadino National Forest, the Cucamonga Wasteland to be exact.

After working all day at the California MEA Conference in Ontario on Friday, I thought it'd be cool to drive a circuit from I-15 up through the mountains to Mt. Baldy and back down into Claremont where I was staying. Since it would be around sunset, I thought this should be a pretty spectacular ride. Leaving the convention center just after five, I encountered pretty heavy traffic through Ontario while trying to work my way over to Sierra Road, where my adventure would begin. I've experience bad traffic, but nothing that would rival this. It took 45 minutes to go one mile. While frustrating that I might miss the best of the sunset, I still expected that it'd be a fun drive at dusk.

I reach Sierra Road at the Interstate and head off toward the town of Lytle Creek. Smooth winding roads are very, very cool for a driving junkie. Its best in a convertible or a performance car, but my rented Saturn VUE was up to the task and we were rolling along at a nice clip. The VUE and I sailed through the town of Lytle Creek along a dried riverbed. Just past Lytle Creek, we hit a stretch of pristine asphalt. Smooth as glass, this is the stuff of dreams for the driving junkie. That would all change very shortly.

Let me back up the story for a moment. Just before hitting the pristine asphalt I passed a sign that should have sent up a red flag - San Bernadino County road maintenance ends here. That would prove to be an understatement a couple of miles further, when the next sign said - Unpaved Road Ahead.

To me, an unpaved road, means its not paved, but cleared of large rocks. A cinder road is what I expected, not an off-road course that would make a Land Rover work hard. It started out as small rocks so I thought okay, a bit more than expected, but not overly difficult to travel, especially for a vehicle with reasonable ground clearance like my VUE. I was rolling along hoping that the pavement would begin again as I came upon two guys in a performance compact with low profile tires. They asked if I might know how to get to a nearby town with access to the interstate. It seems they were trying to get around the backup on the 15. After a quick consultation of my rental car company map, it appeared that they weren't that far from the town so they opted to continue on. At this point, it was getting close to 7 and getting darker by the minute so I wished them well and continued in my pursuit of a paved Mt. Baldy Road.

The road at this point weaves back and forth along the dry riverbed of the Lytle Creek. That's fine if the road is well defined, but this was not the case and as the rocks and ruts got bigger and new trails began to appear in different places along the riverbed. After a near miss with a boulder, I kept going forward because I was more worried about returning over the course that I'd already driven. The unknown that lay ahead combined with the hope that paved road was just around the next bend seemed to be a better bet. In hindsight this makes no sense, but at the time, optimism won out and I forged ahead.

When the automatic headlights finally kicked in and all I could see was the road immediately ahead of me, the adrenaline kicked up a notch and I conceded that this was not going to be good. I hit the OnStar emergency button to get some idea of how much further until I returned to a paved road. After two timed out calls, I began to panic. I was not only in deep, but I was out of range to communicate with the outside world. At this point, I made a pledge to God that if I got out of this in one piece, I would gladly go to Mass on Sunday morning. Miraculously, the OnStar auto-dialer persisted and eventually connected me to an angel named Jocelyn. She asked if I was okay and how she could help.

"Yeah! I need to know where I am and how far until the pavement returns" I responded. She used the VUE's OnStar GPS to determined where I was and what direction I was heading. As her map, like mine, didn't distinguish between paved road and the mule path that I was now on, she put me on hold while calling the National Park Service to figure out how to get me out of there. As I was certain that the paved road must be just ahead, I continued driving while on hold.

It was at the beginning of an uphill climb along a one lane path that I redefined my understanding of being aggressive. It was now dark and there were a pair of headlights coming down my one lane path. I kept moving forward. If someone's going to give, its going to be the couple in the pickup truck. Fortunately the showdown was short lived as they had enough room to back up and get out of the way rather easily. Another miracle that there was someone else out here, so I decided to ask for help from my one lane adversary. He explained that I was only about a mile and a half from the Mount Baldy Lodge, but that the road ahead appeared to been washed out. When a full size 4x4 pickup driven by someone who knew how to drive in these conditions had to backtrack, this was not a good sign for my trusty VUE. My response was simple, please lead me back to paved road, any paved road that gets me back to an interstate. I didn't care if it was in Arizona or Nevada, any interstate would do.

He agreed and after I turned around, we began our journey back. At this point, I'd lost the OnStar signal, but I didn't worry too much since I had a knowledgeable escort. I was feeling better, but I still needed to get back in one piece. Using their taillights as a beacon in the darkness, we trekked back and forth through the dry riverbed. Eventually we came upon the two guys in the sports coupe We waited for them to turn around and our growing caravan continued on its way. Jocelyn called me back to apologize that I'd been cutoff and more importantly to check to see if I was still okay and tell me that a Park Service Ranger was coming up into the valley to assist me and asked if I'd like her to stay on the line. I thanked her again, but explained my encounter with the pickup and that we were on our way back out to Lytle Creek.

As we hit the edge of the smooth pavement, I took a very, very long deep breath. I had lived through the adventure and would be forever grateful to God for connecting me to Jocelyn at OnStar and for finding the couple in the pickup truck. I'd likely still be lost in the wilderness without them. Jocelyn called back one more time just after we'd hit that glorious blacktop. I thanked her again and assured her that my next car and any future rentals would be equipped with OnStar. This one incident convinced me that this indeed is an extraordinary service and peace of mind is worth every penny.

The bottom line in all of this, never trust a map that runs through an area called wilderness. Remember, just because its on a map, doesn't mean that it's paved. And when its not, don't keep going forward, especially when it’s getting dark. I think I'll stick to the suburbs for the rest of my trip. Oh yeah, I'll also be looking for a church for this Sunday morning.