Sunday, June 27, 2010

Transforming Frustration into Opportunity

So I woke up this morning feeling like the last thing that I wanted to do was get up and go to work. it was Sunday and I wanted to be able to enjoy the sabbath and go to church, but instead I had to get up and get myself to work. In an effort to motivate myself I started thinking that I only had two more days, today and tomorrow, and then it would be my weekend. But then I remembered that I am going to be working for 11 hours (7:00am-6:00pm) each of my "days off" this week, before working from 8:30am-11:00pm Friday and Saturday and 9:30am-11:00pm on Sunday. At least I got the late shift on the fourth. I could have had to report at 5:30am after getting off at 11:00 pm or later the night before. It is making me tired just thinking about it! 

It also just so happens to be the hottest June on record in Washington DC, which might be contributing to my general state of fatigue at the moment! It is hard to be motivated to do much when it is this hot out! A far cry indeed from this winter and the snowstorms! Even so, I have enjoyed my share of significant moments in this last week. Even amidst the fatigue and the heat, such moments are there if I had eyes to see them. It is all a matter of how one chooses to approach this adventure that we call life. 

Sometimes it is not the destination, but the unexpected moments on the journey that are the most significant and lasting touches of the divine upon our souls. This last week has provided a wealth of unusual opportunities in which my reaction determined the impact they would have upon me. 

On Tuesday I rode my bike down to the Navy Memorial to hear the Navy Band play. Just before arriving a sudden thunderstorm came out of nowhere, and for about five minutes the skies opened up and unleashed their fury. It was enough to cancel the concert, so the whole trip could have been seen as largely pointless, but I saw it as an unexpected gift, the touch of heaven upon my face, coming unexpectedly, and only enjoyed because I had ridden down to that area of the city. 

I stood out in the road and directed traffic for the better part of eleven hours the next day, which seemed fairly miserable, but unexpectedly, I was granted breaks, times to sit in the shade with cold water and a book while still getting paid overtime. And then I got cut at 5:30, but was paid through 6:00 all the same. Small gifts, but valuable and meaningful to me! 

My schedule was messed up and I was scheduled to do my special program at Lincoln on Friday instead of Saturday as planned, but as it turned out me giving the program on Friday allowed me to connect with people who greatly appreciated me being there, people who would not have heard anything at all if I had the program as scheduled. My first attempt did not initially draw attention, and I was about to give up when a couple and their son walked up and took a picture, and because I stayed to take that picture I entered into conversation with them, which turned into a 45 minute discussion of the Civil War and its lasting significance in world history. My audience included a nine year old boy, who was actively involved in the conversation the entire time. He reminded me very much of myself at that age, which is exactly when I first began to be interested in the Civil War. It became a transcendent moment in which I was taken back to another me, long ago. Our conversation concluded and I retreated to the back room to sit down and try and cool off, only to have another ranger call me back out a few minutes later because the family had returned to thank me for my time and attention and to ask if there was anyone they could write to to tell them how impressed and thankful they were. I could have missed the entire interaction if I had given the program as expected or not stayed to take a picture!

I drew a much larger crowd the other three times I did the program, and it got better every time, with me growing more passionate and animated as I became more comfortable with my topic. Something must have gone right if I could keep 40+ people engaged and interested on a hot summer day as I spoke on how the Civil War marked a transition from classic to modern warfare and how the trenches of Petersburg were a forerunner to WWI! Not exactly the sort of topic you would expect to draw a crowd! Of course it probably helped that I did it in uniform as Chamberlain, telling it as a story from his perspective rather than as a college lecture!

I am doing my special program on Gettysburg this Friday and Saturday, which I am more excited about than any of the others. What better time to tell the story of one of the poignant moments of the war than the day on which it happened! 

The reason I was reassigned to do the program on Friday was so that I could be sent along on a bike tour on Saturday. The tour was being led by an odd duck ranger who is incredibly spacey and not organized, who I would not choose as a partner. The situation was made worse when she told me that I couldn't talk at all on the tour and was simply to go along and bring up the rear. I did manage to convince her to let me insert any additional information that I thought would be relevant if the situation arose. So when the tour began I was not too excited, and I really had no idea where we were even going or what to expect. 

She was as spacey as I had feared and it would have been easy to grow frustrated with the situation, but the six people we had on the tour were great, and I was able to talk to them as we rode, and slowly start to insert more and more of my own comments along the way until I actually basically did the last two stops on my own because I knew more about them than she did! So it turned into a fun adventure for me as well, never knowing what would happen until we got there. It was not the way I would have run the tour, but it was an opportunity to enjoy something unique and different. 

When I returned from the tour I received my schedule for the next week and was excited to see that I was at Jefferson today. I have only worked there for a few hours one morning since I visited Monticello in May and was anticipating a fun day of enlightening people about the wonderful world of Jefferson, only to discover upon arrival this morning that the power was out. Not only did this mean we had no lights, but much more importantly no AC or fans, so it was boiling hot all day. Even more importantly than that, we were cut off from the lower level, which meant we had no handicap access or bathrooms for visitors. A recipe for a terrible day! But once again I discovered that with the right eyes, these seeming setbacks could easily turn into opportunities. 

I gave two talks today, and both times a drew in people more easily because they could not go down to the museum and read about Jefferson themselves. And despite the heat I held both groups captivated for 45-60 minutes as I pontificated about the lasting significant of Jefferson and his memorial. The second talk was one of the best I have ever given at any site, and half a dozen people stayed to hear more, asking more detailed questions, for a good fifteen minutes after I had finished. Once again, I could have missed that moment entirely had I not had the eyes to see the opportunity. 

Quite a fiasco developed trying to get the power turned back on, but rather than simply getting frustrated the other rangers and I lit our path with orange glowsticks and took advantage of the chance to see the underside of the memorial in a different light, turning it into an exploration and impromptu dance party rather than a disaster. 

If there is one thing I have learned from this week it is to never pre-judge a situation in a way that limits your ability to find joy and wonder in the moments that you face. Even when you are hot and tired, when you least expect it, a touch from above can descend upon your soul. 

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