I was rushing around town yesterday morning, a few days before Memorial Day. And when I say rushing, I mean really rushing, caught up in the unconscious busy-ness of life in a small East Coast town. Darting through the parking lot I saw a United States veteran handing out poppies outside of Starbucks. I said to myself “No, no, no, no Megan! Do not go get a poppy! You will be late! There is no time for poppies this morning!!” Then I stopped dead in my tracks and remembered what happened on Ajax Mountain during a hungover bus ride to work in Telluride, Colorado during the winter of 1992. With visions of a snow-covered mountain and a bus pulled over to the side of the road, I turned and walked towards the veteran to get a poppy.
I had moved from New Jersey to Telluride for the winter after I graduated from college. Because I was not a skier, (more of a beer drinker and sitter by the fireplace in a nice ski lodge kind of girl) I worked the day shift at a childcare center at a resort while everyone else hit the slopes. This ensured my nights would be free for gallivanting. (I love this word “gallivanting” and want to commit to using it more). And gallivanting in a Colorado ski town when you are 22 is about as good of a gallivanting experience as you may ever get.
One frigid morning, on a bus headed up the mountain to the resort where I worked, the bus driver pulled over on the side of road and suggested that everyone to get off the bus. This immediately set me into a panic because I was already late (due to the previous night’s gallivanting). And I was concerned the bus had broken down. If the bus had broken down, we may have had to hike the rest of the way to the top of the mountain. I looked around the bus at the other riders and based on their physical condition combined with the backpacks, water bottles and boots it was not going to be as much of a problem for them as it was going to be for me. I had left the house with Birkenstocks and cotton mouth due, again, to the gallivanting the night before.
Everyone got off the bus as if it was a routine stop. No questions asked. No complaining. I stayed put with my head my against window thinking if I kept my eyes closed maybe the driver wouldn’t see me and I would just take a quick disco nap while the bus hopefully got fixed. Well, the driver did see me and said, “Are you aware of what’s happening on Ajax Mountain this morning?” When I said “no,” he said, “Well, if I where you, I would get off this bus.” As he turned to walk away, a feeling came over me that I should listen to him. So, I got my cotton mouth, Birkenstock-wearing ass off the bus and joined the others outside.
Everybody was facing east, so I turned and faced east. Everyone was looking up at Ajax Mountain, so I looked up at Ajax Mountain. When I asked the guy next to me what was happening he said, “They are about to do a controlled blast on Ajax.” (“Controlled blasts” are planned avalanches done for safety and maintenance reasons in ski towns). We sat for about another 20 minutes (I was reminded that I was not in Jersey anymore when there was not one complaint about this) and I then heard the bus driver say, “Brace yourselves, here it comes.” The reason he said to brace ourselves was because unless you have seen one before, the pure, majestic beauty of an avalanche on a clear Colorado morning could knock you off your feet even though you are miles away from it. This show of unabashed nature was so beautiful, so powerful, so unscripted (even though it was planned) that it made me burst into tears and lean back on the snowbank behind me for support. I was instantaneously snapped out my hangover and experienced a clearing throughout my aching head and tired body. I felt completely overwhelmed with a deeper understanding of life, the substance below the surface of my boyfriend troubles, concerns about my future and what I was having for lunch that day. I was in awe of something bigger than myself and the worries that were filling my mind at the time quieted. I was the last one off the bus and the last one back on the bus that morning. We traveled the rest of the ride up the mountain in silence. Seemingly everyone else on the bus was also transformed by what they had just witnessed and didn’t want small talk to interfere with the experience (as small talk often does).
The closer we got to the top, the more anxiety of having to explain to my boss why I was late started to creep in. When I got to work I was fully prepared to explain to her that it WAS NOT MY FAULT! I was going to tell her how I had started out on time (I hadn’t) and it was this crunchy, old bus driver’s fault who stopped the bus to force me outside to watch an avalanche. I was fully prepared to argue my case and try and get out of whatever my consequence was.
My boss’s response to me that morning, however, gave me a perspective that changed the way I viewed life from that morning forward. When I came through the door and told her what had happened, she looked me straight in the eye and said “Of course the bus stopped. And thank God you were on it. Thank God you got off it and looked east. Isn’t that the whole point of why you are here, Megan? You’re not here to just work and build a resume. You are here to be humbled enough to experience gratitude for the life you have been given. You almost missed it, Meg! Thank God you got off that bus, stood still and looked around. Thank God you were reminded today of beauty and goodness and the power of God.”
Ummmm……I had never had this reaction to being late from a boss, a teacher, or a coach. But she was right. Since that morning, every time I get a gut feeling to get out of my routine and do something that will promote growth, I do it. Even though it doesn’t seem to make sense. The most powerful experiences of my life have not made any logical sense. So from that day forward I knew to look for situations that help me get off the bus. Be Still. Turn and be humbled.
Get off the bus. Be still. Turn and be humbled.
Her words rang in my ears yesterday morning outside of Starbucks. It seems, in that moment I may have been missing the point of why I am here, or more importantly how I got here. When I skip supporting the veterans because “I don’t have enough time” then I am absolutely missing how I came to have this busy, full life in the first place. I almost missed the tradition, and purpose, that lives beyond the surface of things in our free nation. Just as I almost missed the avalanche if I had stayed on that bus. Spending time with our veterans helps me to be still. It helps me to grow and to see more clearly. Supporting our veterans snaps me out of busy- ness and distraction the same way that avalanche snapped me out of my hangover and tiredness,
More times than not, our generation cannot seem to collectively pull ourselves away from the gym, our kids’ practices, school activities, appointments, or sometimes even a manicure to stand with veterans and honor what they have given to us. We do not seem to be bosses, coaches, teachers or parents who say, “LET US, ABOVE ALL ELSE, MAKE TIME TO HONOR OUR VETERANS.” We are not saying to each other “Of course you should be late or leave early this week to attend a veterans’ ceremony or buy a poppy. You’re not here to just work and build a resume. You are here to be humbled and experience gratitude and our veterans help us to do that!” This is why Heartworks doesn’t wait for the two holidays a year to roll around to honor these men and women. It’s simply not enough. We want to get off the bus as often as we can, and they help us to do this.
I am not sure what direction I was facing in the parking lot when I turned to walk towards that veteran standing outside of Starbucks, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I was facing east.
Let’s do whatever we have to do to get off the bus this Memorial Day, May 29th and reflect on all that these men and women have given us.