Last week, I had the opportunity (read: I was, as we like to say in the business world, “voluntold”) to attend a conference for work.
The bad news: The conference was about Worker’s Compensation and Safety. OSHA and EH&S. Holy snorefest, Batman. This conference is clearly the equivalent of the ZONK prize on Let’s Make a Deal:
<cue cheesy game show host>
“Congratulations KATE! YOU have been chosen for a two-day, two-night all-expense (as long as they’re under our woefully antiquated per diem) paid trip to learn things YOU already know about The. Most. Booooooring subject on the planet!
“You will receive flight accommodations on the most economical option available, allowing YOU to spend QUALITY TIME in America’s FINEST airports eating the LOWEST QUALITY FOOD money can buy for under $25 during your extended layovers! Aaaaaaaaaannnnd NOT ONLY will you arrive exhausted, frustrated, and 17% homicidal, you will, at our leisure, be shoved into a crowded airport shuttle where a driver of questionable skill will terrify you with his bob-and-weave rush-hour traffic skills! Once you arrive at your hotel, you’ll be greeted by the following:
* A broken elevator!
* A room with PLENTY of Keurig coffee, but NO coffee mugs! And….
* TWO FULL DAYS OF LECTURES in a fourteen-degree conference hall, where you’ll spend nine hours a day hearing ALL ABOUT workplace safety and OSHA! Congratulations KATE!!!!!”
The good news? The conference was being held in San Diego. I live in the Midwest, and it’s the middle of winter here. Days where the high is in the double-digits are few and far between until April or May (when it VERY RUDELY has continued to snow – IN MAY – for the past two winters. Even the diehard Minnesotans and Wisconsinites are growing weary of the seven-month gift from Canada.) So I figured San Diego HAS to be warmer, and warmer = better. And the conference hotel was right on the beach. Even with my “economical” flights, I had a good shot at getting to my hotel before sunset the day before the conference. I hadn’t been to the beach in…um…(carry the one, subtract…uh…twenty years? Can that be right? Wow…yep. Probably more like twenty-five years.) Too long, in any case.
So the day before the conference, I spent six (!!) hours on an airplane. Word to the uninformed: Work travel is NOT, by any stretch of the imagination, glamorous. If you’ve been on a plane any time in the last ten years, you’ve likely rid yourself of that delusion. But if you haven’t – just know that it kind of sucks. You arrive at the airport. You wait in a long line with people who are grumpy, smelly, whiny, or all three. You remove any extra layers of clothing. You separate your liquids, electronics, and shoes into bins. Your personal belongings get scanned. You wait while the person in front of you – clearly an inexperienced traveler – gets sent back through the X-ray for attempting to smuggle dangerous contraband like a cell phone, water bottle, or <gasp> a jar of peanut butter past security screening.
Eventually, it’s your turn for the X-ray, and YOU get scanned. (Yes, TSA can see an outline of your netherbits. But it’s not a good picture; your clandestine objects look just like everyone else’s, so try not to think about it.) You rush to join the logjam on the other side of the scanner and, while the plastic bins are coming out faster than the candy in Lucy’s factory, you do your best to quickly jam your personal belongings back into your one allowed carry-on and your one permitted personal item, wedging them in just so, ensuring that everything will still close and fit in the overhead. (It’s a good thing I was so good at Tetris back in the day. I have mad packing skills, yo.)
Mad dash to find your gate. (This COULD be a leisurely stroll, but I’m a horrible procrastinator, and probably didn’t leave home until the last possible minute. I guess I like living on the edge….) Sit and wait. Find out that flight is delayed. Wait some more. Line up by caste ranking, but as close to the front of the line as you can, so you aren’t separated from your carry-on due to full overhead bins. Get your bar code scanned. Find your seat. Buckle up. Ride to de-icing. Park. Wait some more. Insert a variety of potential delays – flat tire, ground stop, weather, or JUST BECAUSE IT’S TUESDAY, and eventually take off for your next destination – a two-hour layover.
Are we having fun yet? I think, after flying for so long, I now know how cattle feels. Except at the end of the trip, I don’t go to slaughter, I go to work. Not sure who is getting the better deal here.
So I FINALLY get to San Diego. But as travelers know, the airport isn’t really your final destination. Now you have to find your shuttle, and it’s rush hour (of course.) It’s another hour before I get to my hotel. And part of the trip involves high-speed travel over a very long, very narrow, very HIGH bridge. (This bridge is sometimes called the Suicide Bridge. It’s 2000 feet above the water. That’s a long, long way down….) Clearly, our driver has a teenage fantasy about NASCAR, or Bump-N-Jump, or maybe the local ordinance prohibits staying in one lane for more than 500 feet at a time. It’s a white-knuckler over the span, that’s for sure. And me without a paper bag to breathe into, or a parachute, just in case.
By the time I get to my hotel, I’ve sailed past grumpy, dashed by cranky, and completely missed irritable. If I was a cartoon character, you’d see FOUL MOOD in an aura-like cloud radiating off my head like steam. So I get to my room, unpack…and then have my meltdown.
After about 15 minutes of an unspecified rant of I HATE EVERYTHING <stomp stomp stomp> I take a deep breath and notice that there’s still daylight. I wander down to the beach.
I kick off my shoes and roll up my yoga pants and head to the shore. I climb out on the rocks. I watch the surf.
I breathe. For maybe the first time all day. I breathe in, I breathe out, and I just soak in the calm and the beauty.
I spend the next hour or so walking up and down the shoreline, marveling at every shell, rock, and hunk of seaweed. I stick my toes in the cold surf and let the sand ease away all the baggage I’d been carrying around in my head. I sit on the rocks, dangerously close to the icy, crashing waves. And I breathe.
And then…I see it. I SEE IT. I cannot believe what I am seeing:
SEAL! SEAL! ZOMG A LEGIT ACTUAL SEAL IN REAL LIFE!!!!
It’s getting colder, but I just can’t tear myself away from this. The sky lights up in pink and periwinkle and it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
And as the sun continues to set, I receive the most fantastic gift as the sky explodes in color:
I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s indescribably beautiful.
I’m overwhelmed by what I’m feeling. It’s…peace. Peace and joy. I’m refreshed and renewed. What started out as a boring, frustrating, work-required inconvenience was something I needed badly. So very badly. More than I ever knew.
Sometimes, God throws you a small reminder that He’s out there, even when you forget to look. I’m holding this reminder close to my heart, to remind me that life really can bring joy.
Just keep looking.
This is life’s love letter to me. Dear Kate, you are loved. Sealed with a sunset.