Friday, July 28, 2017

Be Still and Float

Be Still and Float


Impressed at myself and the fact that I’d made it in without falling into the river, I lounged comfortably in my tube in the Guadalupe, except for the cold water chill grazing my bum. I’d been both excited and anxious about this trip for months. I needed to get away. I wasn’t taking a full-on vacation this summer, so this weekend getaway was my summer trip. I travelled to Austin with ten friends for a long weekend of relaxing, eating, and tubing. This would be my first time floating the river, at almost forty-two years of age, hence my anxiety. I was also the only single on this trip. There were five couples (who I adore), and me, the proverbial eleventh wheel.
Is this it? I thought, as I floated immobile in the still river. “When do we start moving?” I inquired to our group. This was a piece of cake. I was lying in my tube feeling completely relaxed. “Can you pass me a Modelo?” I savored the sound of the top popping and the taste of the icy beer on my lips. I could feel the cold water on my feet and my seat. I was surrounded by people I care about. I could get used to this. And we did, indeed, start to move down the river, albeit at a glacial pace.
The night before we went to the Saltlick and had delicious barbecue. We stayed in a glorious, gorgeous cabin off the beaten path. The deer were plentiful, and it was such a nice escape. That morning, I stole away to the front porch with my coffee for a silent, still, introverted moment.

Back at the river, it was my friend Stephen’s birthday, so we decided while all eleven of us were floating in the Guadalupe River, we should sing happy birthday! Because eighty percent of us sing in the Turtle Creek Chorale men’s chorus, we harmonized instinctively, and this was no mediocre rendition. Everyone around us was smiling enrapt by the music. A girl floating with a group nearby proclaimed, “I’m Lauren! It’s my birthday, too!” So we immediately sang the song again for her. The river was filled with all kinds of happy people, and it was a joyous moment.
As we finished our second round of happy birthday, we realized a group of ominous clouds were gathering and approaching us. We actually began to blow backwards. It wasn’t long before we had blown back past where we entered the river in the first place. Then it began to rain. It was chilly. I shivered. We felt annoyed, uncomfortable, giggly, and exhilarated simultaneously. I will never forget that indescribable moment.
The rain finally dissipated, and we took turns pulling our crew in the right direction. The remainder of the float was relatively calm, until the last bit. We actually picked up quite a bit of speed, and our twines broke, so we got separated a few times. I had feared this from the beginning, but I managed just fine. Another storm was brewing, and exiting the river in the right spot proved to be challenging, but we made it.
That night we headed to the Gristmill for dinner. As we waited for our table on the palatial patio, we marveled at the seventy-five degree weather on a mid-July evening in Gruene, Texas. As we ate our southern faire together, framed in a peaceful, calming sunset, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

Sunday morning, as I drank my coffee on the porch of that charming cabin, I felt as if I floated amidst the strong, rooted, sprawling trees. I have always been in love with the trees and think we can learn so much from them in their beautiful wisdom.

Our entire group broke bread together one last time at brunch in Austin at Cafe Bouldin. We ate well on this trip. My friend Stephen and I both ordered a drink called a “Beyonce” and I proceeded to ask the group, “Does anyone want to taste my 'Beyonce'? It’s delicious!” and we all laughed.
When the waiter asked how he should split our checks, everyone paired off, and I replied, “I’m alone.”
He replied, “I prefer -- independent.”
“I’m totally fine either way.” I smiled at him.
On our way out of town, Lars, Stephen, and I (I carpooled with them) stopped by Barton Springs for one last vacation experience. I could check another first off my list. I jumped into the cold spring. My feet barely touched the rocky bottom. I propelled myself up and down with my toes. I felt invigorated, relaxed, centered, and buoyant.

I didn’t take an exotic, far-away vacation this summer, but I’m so thankful for this long weekend away from the monotonous details that can weigh me down. Life is about so many things, but the most important pieces are those tiny moments that end up causing us to bubble up with smiles, laughter, and life-affirming emotions. Like when you look a friend in the eye across the room and share a knowing feeling of love and understanding. Or when you laugh until you cry. Or you’re just sitting on an unfamiliar porch with a cup of coffee and the trees, and you are reminded of everything that is actually familiar and true.

In that last moment of our trip, as I floated and bounced in that cold, crisp water, I reflected on these feelings and memories, and I looked forward to the next tiny moment that would give me life’s grandest feelings and carry me on.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Carpe Diem

We descend three flights of stairs like marching soldiers drenched in solid black and palpable anticipation. Voices silent and minds stilled, the cacophonous sound of our black dress shoes on the metal steps echoes throughout the stairwell and fills me with adrenaline. The past year of preparation scatters in my mind like Polaroids, and I feel overwhelmed in this culminating moment.


Almost a year ago, we began working on songs for GALA Chorus Festival -- a five day event in Denver where over 150 choruses from around the world come together to perform, listen, and appreciate choral music. Our artistic director, Sean Baugh, hand-picked songs dealing with life and death and seizing the day. Our set was aptly entitled, Carpe Diem: Songs of Life and Death and included “The Music of Living,” “Requiem,” “I Love You/What a Wonderful World,” “The Sound of Silence,” “No Time,” and “Angels Calling.”

I fell in love with the sounds and words of each of these songs. As GALA neared, I could have grown tired of them, but I came to love them even more. The theme of living life to the fullest resonated with me, and the lyrics and melodies of these songs were gently etched on my heart.

Each Tuesday night at rehearsal, I had the honor and privilege of singing with Turtle Creek Chorale brothers I cared about, adding meaning to our Carpe Diem set.

On June 12, 2016, (three-and-a-half weeks before our GALA performance) forty-nine innocent people were brutally murdered at PULSE, a gay dance club in Orlando, Florida.

And just like that, Carpe Diem: Songs About Life and Death became much more than a set of songs for GALA.
I read Stacy Horn’s Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others a few years ago, and singing with the chorale constantly reminds me of her words: “In times of sorrow (and celebration) there are two other things to believe in: music and each other” (18).

The PULSE shooting took place in the two o’clock hour on a Sunday morning. About sixty-five hours later, we (the Turtle Creek Chorale) were waiting to go onstage to sing a concert for healing for Orlando and our community. We were ready to sing all of the songs from our GALA set but had not planned on this dress rehearsal. While the shooting had diminished our spirits, this performance, and the audience’s gracious, loving response fueled our souls and our songs with emotion, passion, and healing energy.

That’s what music does, and it’s not just the performers. It is a multi-layered, magical union between the performers on stage with each other, their conductor, and the audience.

Fast forward back to GALA festival, where choruses from all over the world -- including Beijing, Germany, and yes, Orlando -- to name a few, performed. The Orlando chorus wept openly in response to the audience’s reaction during their poignant, life-changing set. Grief, healing, and gratitude overflowed in the hall.



Wednesday, July 6, at two o'clock in the afternoon, we descend the stairs, ready to sing.

We wait in the wings, sharing silent smiles of brotherhood and sneaking last minute hand-squeezes.



We walk onto the stage in unison and instinctively turn to face our conductor. From the first downbeat, we are in synch. Sean’s conducting is more gently precise than ever, and we are hanging on his every move. Crystalline sound permeates Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Darkness shrouds the audience, so we can barely see them, but we can feel them. After each song, the audience erupts in applause, and we receive several standing ovations throughout the set. I have never felt more connected to the singers around me, the conductor in front of me, and the packed audience from floor to ceiling. The moment is enveloped in the music of living.

As our set concludes and the final note echoes throughout the hall, we exit the stage and walk into the lobby. The audience greets us with applause and tears. A woman stands to my right, looks me in the eyes with tears flowing out of hers and whispers, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” I whisper right back to her and look up, continuing to whisper, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” in my mind.
I make a conscious effort to embrace this feeling -- this music of experience, this indescribable meaning ricocheting around and within me -- and I am longing to write it all down.



“I’m one day poorer, another day singler, and we’re all going to die, but together with all these people I have raised my voice and once more I have come with joy.” -- Stacy Horn
Horn, Stacy. Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others. Algonquin: 2013. Print.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Love Again, More... (remembering PULSE Orlando)

"Nothing helped until the day she took a tablet and pencil into the basement and moved the event out of her and onto paper, where it was reshaped into a kind of simple equation: loss equaled the need to love again, more. With this, she was given peace." from home safe by Elizabeth Berg

Monday evening, June 13, I started a new book.  I gasped when I read this last paragraph in the prologue and knew I had to write about Orlando, even if it was a selfish act.

Saturday night, June 11,  I sang with the Turtle Creek Chorale at the Dallas City Performance Hall in the Arts District. It was the third performance in our "Heartstrings" series, our final concert of the season. I joined several friends to celebrate the birthday of our friend Matthew at The Mitchell downtown after the show. It was an amazing weekend and a beautiful evening with friends and family.

Sunday morning, June 12, I woke up to news that there had been a shooting at a gay dance club called PULSE in Orlando -- at least 20 people were dead. Later that day I would learn that 40 people were dead and countless injured.

I felt physically sick and emotionally numb. It could have been me.

The first gay establishment I ever went to was The Village Station on Cedar Springs in Dallas, Texas, and I went frequently in my twenties. I was probably 19 the first time I went (over 20 years ago...I know) with a group of friends, on an 18-and-up night. That first time was one of the scariest, most liberating experiences of my life. I was still wary of "coming out" at this point, and I was surrounded by so many diverse people, but we were the same, and there was no judgment, no pressure to conform or force ourselves to be something we weren't. At that time, complete, unconditional acceptance was something I hadn't found, and to be honest, I was fearful of it. I had been so conditioned (by my church and society as a whole, never by my family) to think something was wrong with me, and I should continue to pray and seek to change to become a whole, "normal" person.

The church, society, and I were wrong, and going to The Village, in addition to meeting several friends who loved me unconditionally in college, was one of the first steps to understanding and loving myself.

During those Village Station hay days, I can remember that euphoric feeling of dancing to my favorite songs, like the latest Madonna, Britney, Whitney, Toni, and so on. I vividly remember one night when my friends and I were standing out on the patio, and the pounding heavily-bassed intro of Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right, but It's OK" ignited the air, and I must have broken a record making it to the dance floor. I felt so alive and free.

It could have been me.

I hope and pray that everyone one of those precious lives that were lost at PULSE that night were filled with a sense of liberation, belonging, and joy until the moment their lives were stolen. I hope they heard their favorite songs that night and spent it with some of their favorite people.

The weekend before this atrocity, my dear friend Dustin and I went to Station 4 (formerly The Village Station...yes, it's still there!) to a benefit concert with Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. It was an absolute blast. The place was packed, and everyone was excited and overjoyed.

It could have been us.

I avoided the news as much as possible that Sunday after the massacre in Orlando. We had our TCC awards banquet that night, and I helped my friend Doug with the Year-In-Review as Marge Williams. It was a blessing to make people laugh. That night when I got in bed, I read an article about the aftermath in the PULSE nightclub -- when responders were walking around identifying the bodies early Sunday morning -- cell phones were ringing, chiming, and buzzing with unanswered calls and texts. I was haunted by that never ending space between those lost and their loved ones that could never be filled -- at least not physically with "I love you's" or embraces.

Tuesday, June 14, I had the honor of singing with my Turtle Creek Chorale brothers at my church, the Cathedral of Hope, in a healing concert for Orlando and for those hurting in the community. We raised over $15,000 for the victims and their families. There were over 2,000 people in attendance, and almost 30,000 online attendees.

When we (the Turtle Creek Chorale chorus) walked into the main building of the Cathedral of Hope to perform, it was physically and emotionally overwhelming. There was standing room only and dozens of police officers were in attendance. It immediately brought tears to my eyes. I was so grateful for those officers that night.

The first song we sang was a mash-up of "I Love You/What a Wonderful World." When I looked out at the multitudes in the audience, their misty eyes and body language, said, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much." And I felt the same way. The grief, gratitude, and emotion permeated the air in the room. It was a heartbreaking, yet profoundly beautiful expression of humanity.

I held my emotions in check until Camerata, one of our small groups, sang "MLK" by U2. The lyrics had never been so moving: "Sleep, sleep tonight, and may your dreams be realized..."

That night as I went to bed, I was still angry, sad, and scared for our world and community, but I felt a little more peaceful, and I finally slept.

When massacres like this happen, I get angry, sad, and doubtful. I get angry at the shooter, and angry at God. I cannot and will not believe that "everything happens for a reason" and "God let this happen" and all that. I even had one of my pastors pray with me last Wednesday night at church because I was so filled with anger and doubt.

I refuse, however, to lose all hope and faith. And since I feel the need to do something, I will continue to love others and share light in the world. I will not combat hate with hate. I will temper hate and darkness with love and light. There is no other way I can see through it.

Monday, when I was frantically working out (finally), I had my phone on shuffle. "Afterlife" by Ingrid Michaelson came on, and I immediately thought of those angels who lost their lives at PULSE in Orlando:

     "When the world is breaking down around you
     Taking everything you know
     What you didn't know
     Is that we can go forever if we want to
     We can live inside of a moment
     The one that we own

     You and me we got this
     You and me we're beautiful, beautiful

     We all, we all, we're gonna be alright
     We got, we got, we always got the fight in us
     We all, we all, we're gonna live tonight
     Like there's no tomorrow 'cause we're the afterlife..."

You can watch the video here which is SO relevant and worth viewing and listening:

AFTERLIFE by Ingrid Michaelson


It's ok to be afraid, but I will not live in fear, and I will not dim my light. I hope you will do the same. Live, love, and share light, and don't let anyone or anything cover you in darkness.

I'll close with this. Sunday, there was a vigil in Orlando for those lives that were lost that horrific night. There was a rainbow in the sky that afternoon/evening. It's imperative that we understand (whether it's a metaphor or your reality) that God put a rainbow in this vast, complex sky for every single one of us. End of story. Or, perhaps, that's just the beginning.

                                     I took this photo at the Interfaith Peace Chapel June 14, 2016



Monday, May 2, 2016

Do Not Demo

This evening after work, I stopped at the Katy Trail by way of Reverchon Park.
I walked up the familiar concrete ramp and steps to the Thomson Overlook
And made my way to my favorite stretch between the overlook and American Airlines Center.
This time I decided to walk down to where the trail begins, marked “0.0 miles.”

And I noticed if you look at the other end of that marker, it is also marked “3.5 miles.”
I smiled to myself and thought how beginnings and endings get mixed up.

So I decided that I would, for the first time, journey from this end to the beginning.
I tread briskly along the darker path marked “pedestrians only.”
I stopped at every water fountain.
I had nowhere to be and no obligations on this Monday evening.
I walked, jogged, and side-stepped, but my mind was lifted and still.

I thought about the trees along the trail -- beside, behind, and before me --
How each one had her own story, her roots and her branches gnarled and sprawled in majestic, muddy, scarred storytelling, like every being on that trail.

I walked, jogged, and sidestepped until I reached “3.50 miles” at the other end/beginning at 
Airline Rd.

I stood there embracing the moment and the extraordinary, chilly breeze of May 2, 2016.

Then I remembered I had to walk back to where I started.

I jogged on the way back until
I noticed a wall with some words painted on it.

I paused and took a picture, as I often do, afraid of forgetting moments.

“Do Not Demo Do Not Demo Do Not Demo”


The words declared insistently three times, demanding to be noticed...like poetry.

I took a deep breath and thought about how we tear things down to build them up again and vice versa.
We even tear each other down to build ourselves up.

As I walked and jogged and sidestepped the rest of the way back, I stopped at every water fountain.

I returned to my car over two hours and 8.17 miles after I began. And as my journey ended, I had to look back at those trees one last time.

Friday, March 11, 2016

UnSUNG Heroes

When I found out the programming for our latest Turtle Creek Chorale concert, I have to admit, I was not exactly thrilled. Part of the show would consist of songs dedicated to local community “hero” organizations, which is lovely, songs including Katy Perry’s “Firework” and one of my personal favorites -- “Beautiful City” -- from Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell.

The second half of the concert would consist of Tyler’s Suite, a movement of music Turtle Creek Chorale co-commissioned with several other GALA choruses. Tyler’s Suite is an original group of songs honoring the life of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who lost his life to suicide in September of 2010. His is not my story to tell, but he was a wonderfully creative, talented gay man who was just starting to come out of the closet and to grow into an amazing, uniquely beautiful human being. His roommate secretly videoed him being intimate with another man and posted it online for the world to see. There is so much more to Tyler than this, and you can read more about Tyler’s life, wonders, and accomplishments at http://www.tylerclementi.org/tylers-story.

I was hesitant to embrace a group of challenging, unknown songs, that might take me to dark places. I was afraid it would remind me of loved ones I’d known who had lost the will to live and chosen to end it all. I was even more afraid to look in the mirror and see the little boy who could not reconcile who he was with a world and a God that didn’t fit and had those thoughts himself.

I was scared this music would break my heart.

And it has.

But this beautiful music has an important story to tell. Sometimes our hearts need to break a little bit to become stronger and share in the collected humanity of living. Acknowledging the darkness can even help us create and experience light, and that’s what we are doing by singing this music.

I love to read words that change me, that make me better, and add meaning to who I am. There are several texts in this program that have done that for me. If you haven’t discovered it by now, Sean Baugh, our artistic director, is a programming genius.

There is a line in Katy Perry’s “Firework” that is the bottom line for me. “You don’t have to feel like a wasted space.  You’re original, cannot be replaced. If you only knew what the future holds: after a hurricane comes a rainbow.” It might seem simple, but there is beautiful truth in those words. I wish every child (or human being for that matter) who struggles alone in the dark could understand and believe that there is a sliver of rainbow light on the other side of the door waiting after the hurricane.

Another song not from Tyler’s Suite is Ragtime’s “Make them Hear You.” The song opens with, “Go out and tell our story, let it echo far and wide. Make them hear you, make them hear you. How justice was our battle and how justice was denied. Make them hear you, make them hear you.” That song resonates with me on many levels, but I feel like we are Tyler’s collective voice in this concert. He is no longer here, so we are singing for him, so he can be a hero, too. Tyler is our hero.

You need to come to the show to experience the magic of Tyler’s Suite, but there are a few lines that really strike me. The first time we sang “A Wish” it blew me away. It is a beautiful song about longing for the simplicity of childhood from Tyler’s perspective. When we finished singing through it the first time, I looked up and realized several of the guys in the chorus were weeping. “I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight, I wish I were a child again when everything was simple.” I had the opposite experience as Tyler. When I was a child, I suffered from depression and felt the weight of the world was too much. When I went off to college, I felt liberated and loved unconditionally by an amazing group of friends. I was able to grow into my true authentic self. Tyler never got that opportunity.

Suicide is, for me, the most unimaginable and devastating of human endings. I started having panic attacks my senior year of college when my cousin committed suicide. I was on my way to my aunt’s birthday just a couple of years ago when I heard of Robin William’s suicide. I had to turn around and go back home because I had a panic attack. 

I don’t know what the answer is to the epidemic of suicide. We cannot know what goes on in the minds and hearts of others, but I think that for those who choose to end it, there is a switch that is flipped, and they cannot get it to turn back on. Whether they have been bullied or just feel trapped in that darkness, none of  us know. I do know that it’s an issue that never seems to go away, and we all need to do our part to help.

I want to emphasize that this is NOT going to be a depressing concert. It is a hopeful show celebrating heroes, one of which is Tyler Clementi.

My favorite line in Tyler’s Suite says, “Go back for those who trail behind, give a hand to those who fall. Stop to help the one out on the edge, carry those who can’t go on.” So this is our way of helping and celebrating Tyler. We go into the darkness and hold his hand, and we carry him in our voices, and we will share it with the world. If Tyler can’t, we will, so he becomes our hero, and maybe we get the chance to be heroes ourselves, singing the songs that Tyler never got to sing. “There are songs you haven’t heard and music yet to play. I have melodies to sing, and words I long to say. How I want to play my song where arms are open wide in a place where I belong, a world that’s large and kind…”

One of my favorite songs of all time is Godspell’s “Beautiful City” which we are singing in this concert. For me the song is about making the world better. There is a line about building a beautiful city: “We may not reach the ending, but we can start -- slowly, but truly mending, brick by brick, heart by heart. Now, maybe now, we start learning how.”

Maybe we can all help build a more beautiful, heroic, “large and kind” world. I know that is certainly what we, the Turtle Creek Chorale, are trying to do with our Heroes show.

You can find out more about the Tyler Clementi Foundation and become an "Upstander" at www.tylerclementi.org

You can purchase tickets for our upcoming Turtle Creek Chorale concert March 31 and April 1 and 2 at Dallas City Performance Hall at www.turtlecreekchorale.com

References


Ahrens, Lynn. “Make Them Hear You,” Ragtime: The Musical. BMG Entertainment, 
1990.


Gasser, Nolan. “I Have Songs You Haven’t Heard,” from Tyler’s Suite
The Tyler Clementi Foundation, 2013.


Perry, Katy. “Firework,” Teenage Dream. Capitol Records, 2010.


Schwartz, Stephen. “Beautiful City,” Godspell. Ghostlight Records, 2011.


Stewart, Pamela. “A Wish,” from Tyler’s Suite. The Tyler Clementi Foundation, 2013.


Stewart, Pamela, and Jake Heggie. “The Narrow Bridge,” from Tyler’s Suite. The Tyler Clementi
Foundation. BMI, 2014.



Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Big Picture

The Big Picture
“We’ve opened our eyes, and it’s changing the view. How big, how blue, how beautiful.” -- Florence Welch
I have dreamed of whale watching for most of my adult life. I will never forget the gum commercial from years ago where the woman is enjoying her her chewing experience so much that she misses the whale as it jumps out of the water. While she is savoring her gum, she hears a spectator celebrate, “IT’S BREATHTAKING!” but the whale is gone when she looks out to sea.

It reminds me of the time I was in San Diego with friends, and we were at the beach. A chipmunk distracted me -- so much so that I didn’t hear a British couple proclaim, “Oh my God! It’s a pod of whales!” so I missed the whales gloriously jumping out of the ocean while I marveled at a cute little land rodent. I have traveled to Florida and California and seen the ocean in its splendor, but I have never been on an actual whale watch until I vacationed in Provincetown, Massachusetts, this past June.

Two of my closest college friends, Jason and Sam, like me, are turning 40 this year, and we have been friends for going on twenty-one years. We decided to go somewhere none of us had been before. Provincetown would be a “rite of passage” trip since each of us had wanted to journey there for years.

On our second, life-changing day in Provincetown -- Friday, June 26, 2015, to be exact --  we walk up and down Commercial Street taking in the sights after an amazing breakfast at Cafe Heaven. We are overwhelmed with the beauty of the locale and the momentous news emanating the air and our brains.

We decide to stop at the “Provincetown Whale Watch” ticket booth as I skip in excitement. It is 11:30 AM, and the boat leaving for the whale watch is allegedly departing at noon. Jason opts not to go but walks with Sam and me down the pier to enjoy the view and send us off to sea. We finally find the appropriate spot to meet for our whale watch just before noon but end up waiting almost forty-five minutes because the boat is late.

We finally make it onto the boat and embark into the ocean. The water is choppy, so I take advantage of the free Dramamine. Although a misty rain has fallen throughout the morning, the clouds begin to scatter and dissipate as the day progresses. The farther out we move, the bluer the sky and the water become. The farther we ride away from land, the more relaxed I become. I suddenly realize the weight of reality. I feel liberated as the magnitude of the ocean lessens everything else.

2015 has proven to be a roller coaster so far: I eliminated debt; I earned a promotion at work; I dated a great deal (pigs are flying); I had tonsillectomy, sinus, and deviated septum surgery (even more traumatic than you can imagine); and none of those previously mentioned dates developed into what I’d hoped. I had so much to be grateful for and proud of, but I was exhausted from the trying parts. Even blessings can cause stress to the body and spirit.

As usual, the state of the world causes me the most stress of all. Since childhood, I have been a great worrier. As of late, my human brain finds it impossible to wrap itself around the fact that much of America is consumed with hate and/or fear over the possibility of marriage equality while there are still crazed bigots opening fire on groups of people because of the color of their skin or burning down churches for the same reason. For my entire life, I have found it impossible that so many Christians seem to forget or ignore God’s message, “the greatest of these is LOVE.”

June 26, 2015: As I venture out to sea with one of my oldest and best friends, all of the worry, anxiety, and negative energy in the world and myself seem to fall into the big, beautiful blue. I see a trio of knowing lighthouses to our right in the distance. Soon enough, there is no land in sight, and we are literally enveloped and enlightened by brilliant blue. Just when I begin to consider that we might not see any whales, the boat engine stops, and the aquatic genius on the intercom informs us we are approaching our first whale sighting.

As promised, a trio of whales surfaces shortly, all at once, as if they are rolling in unison with the current of the ocean. Shades of deep midnight blue flow in and out of the water. Our guide informs us these are Humpback Whales. The entire boat full of people of all ages from all over the world exudes giddiness. Sam and I run all over the outline of the boat and back and forth across it to catch sight of these majestic creatures. I quickly give up on trying to capture a perfect picture of these creatures and focus on embracing each snapshot in my mind. My face and hoody glisten from the spray of water glittering all around us. My mouth tastes the salt in the air; my eyes feel the overflow of happy tears as they witness this moment.

We continue to follow the Humpback whales at a safe distance. Before the tour of the big, blue, beautiful comes to a close, we catch a slight glimpse of the elusive Fin Whale, the second largest mammal in the world. I barely snatch sight of it just below the water’s surface as it jets past.

As the boat comes back to life and makes the turnaround for land, I gaze again into the vast ocean. I can hear the Florence and the Machine song, “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” echoing in my head. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude for this experience. I feel closer to God, the world, and humanity all at once. I know that this is what it’s all about. The details, especially the negative ones that try to diminish us, pale in comparison to these moments that define us.