Opening day

rays-opening-day-2014Although time travel in a physical sense is presently science fiction, it is a reality when traveling within our mind. Through our experiences and our memories, we are able to journey into the past, for better or worse, and revisit those feelings and emotions that stirred us so deeply. And although many of those memories are filled with grandeur and majesty, often the ones that become a fabric of your life are the quietest and simplest.

Monday, March 31, 2014 is a national holiday. Well, it is for baseball fans. As opening day of the new baseball season, it is a celebration of hope for your team, an unofficial welcome to the splendor of spring. And a very good excuse to take a vacation day, travel across the state with your son, and watch the Tampa Bay Rays opening day game in St. Petersburg.

For years, I have been a cheering fan in the seats at Tropicana Field on opening day, partaking in the festive atmosphere, allowing myself to be ushered by the wave of excitement. Alone. The opportunity to share this rendition of opening day with my eleven year old son filled me with eager anticipation. After partaking in a lunch consisting of a foot long hot dog, a pressed Cuban sandwich, and a shared order of fries, we found our way to section 219, row D, seats 19 and 20, our new t-shirt and cap securely clutched in hand.

As we settled into watching batting practice, the rhythmic crack of a wooden bat piercing the air was an oddly comforting sound, an announcement that baseball is back in full swing. As the power hitters launched ball after ball into the outfield seats, many a “Whoa, did you just see that?” were shared between us, along with sips of lemonade from our souvenir cup.

Near the conclusion of warm-ups, we decided to explore a new addition to the venue affectionately known as The Trop. Circling the entire stadium at just above field level is a walkway that allows you to soak up the experience from nearly any vantage point. As we were navigating our way through the crowds of people along the path, the jumbo screen came to life. With a musical score introduction exuding a victorious tone, a cinematic presentation followed. Highlights from past seasons streamed over those pixels on the big screen providing a reminiscent trip down memory lane.

The magical sequence of events that our entire family watched together on the final day of the 2011 baseball season. The highlights from Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series. As I place a hand on my son’s shoulder, I got down to his eye level and pointed with my finger to the very last row at the top of the stadium behind home plate. “I was up there during that game when they advanced to the World Series, and it was absolutely amazing. I wish you could have been there with me to see it.”

Caught up within the evocative memories of seasons past, I kept the tear forming in the corner of my eye from escaping down my cheek. The goose bumps, however, could not be contained, washing over my skin with a tidal wave of emotion. Not because my team succeeded. Okay, well maybe a little bit because of that. Ultimately, though, the emotion came from sharing such a special moment with those around me, whether it was the stranger who looked like Mr. Miyagi seated next to me in those nosebleed seats during Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS, or with my family on our living room couch in 2011.

As we departed the stadium, en route back home, the churning hunger pains from our stomach began to win out over the adrenaline rush of an opening day 9-2 victory. In search of a Chick-Fil-A at all expenses, my son willingly staved off those pangs of hunger until we were finally able to locate one an hour into our drive back home.

After pacifying the immediate demands of hunger, I looked up to my son who was sitting across from me and I said, “You know, when they were playing those highlights from the past seasons, I got goose bumps.” He paused a moment, looked up with a little grin, almost one of relief, and said, “Yeah, me too.”

opening-day-is-specialAnd right then, I forgot whether we had won or lost the game. The memory I had intended to make by attending a baseball game with my son didn’t occur in a stadium. It transpired at a Chick-Fil-A, an hour away from home, while dipping chicken nuggets in buttermilk ranch sauce. And those goose bumps that had visited earlier treated me with an encore performance. I can’t say exactly why that moment filled me with such joy. Perhaps it was just an intimate moment between father and son, a shared memory that endowed more emotion than a game winning home run ever could. Sometimes, we capture memories in a photograph, and sometimes a memory becomes so imprinted upon us that a photograph could not possibly do it justice. Chalk one up for the latter.

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Goose bumps

hedgieThe grunting and snuffling of a foraging hedgehog should be offensive and repugnant. Instead, it is strangely endearing. If you have never held a hedgehog or watched one run around on its stubby little legs, find an opportunity to do so. It is almost sure to sprinkle pure joy into an otherwise ordinary day.

As disappointing as this next fact may be to all the hedgehog lovers across the globe, this story does not focus on the cuteness factor associated with these nocturnal rodents and their pig-like snouts. It’s about their quills and what they can teach us about our innermost desires and life purpose.

That’s right, I just made a connection between the body part of an exotic rodent and the meaning of life. Stick with me. And yes, that pun was intended 😉

Like other mammals, hedgehogs get goose bumps. Whenever they feel threatened, quills are brought to full attention. In an effort to make themselves look larger and scare away predators, this self-defense mechanism serves as a reflexive survival instinct.

As humans, we also experience the wonder of goose bumps. When we are captivated by intense feelings of awe, admiration, or pleasure, goose bumps wash across our skin like an ocean wave tickles the shore with its foamy fingers.

At some point in our lives, we have each been touched by these moments of intensity. As quickly as they materialize, they withdraw back to the depths from whence they came and depart from our awareness. But, in that split second when they occupy our presence, they leave us with the most intense feeling of euphoria. I have a fanciful notion that goose bumps are the physical manifestation of a soul’s smile.

There are a few scenarios, without fail, that stir the emotional cauldron in the depths of my being and allow my soul to reveal itself through these virtual smiles. The stage is set around the World Showcase at Epcot. The time is 9:00 pm. As the frequency of a beating drum rises in a crescendo, my heart follows suit in anticipation of the magic that follows. I have been here numerous times before, both physically and emotionally. Although I know every little nuance of tonight’s performance, I welcome its energy with gratitude as the pyrotechnics soar across the sky, reflecting off the water in the lagoon. My soul is at home.

As the story continues and the final pages of this evening’s rendition are spoken through lasers, fireworks, and music, the globe at the center of the lagoon peels open to reveal a flame at its core. The words to this enchanting song echo from the pavilion of each country represented around the World Showcase.

With the stillness of the night
there comes a time to understand
to reach out and touch tomorrow
take the future in our hand

 We can see a new horizon
built on all that we have done
and our dreams begin another
thousand circles ’round the sun 

We go on
to the joy and through the tears
We go on
to discover new frontiers
Moving on
with the current of the years
We go on
moving forward, now as one
Moving on
with a spirit born to run
Ever on
with each rising sun 

To a new day
We go on 

We go on

We go on. With those three words, goose bumps radiate across every inch of my physical, mental, and spiritual being. As the physical remnants of this sensation recede, I step back from a surreal world and into the present. In that brief moment, however, I became aware of everything around me. I am reminded that we all share a common bond, a common story that we continue to write with each passing moment of our existence. We are all interconnected and have the power to transform this world. Together.

Next time the universe bestows this mystical feeling upon you through whatever makes you come alive, stop and notice it. Become aware of everything around you. It is your soul’s way of smiling from within you and making itself visible through your physical being.

The era we are living in today is a dream of coming true. ~Walt Disney

Allow your soul to speak. Follow it with fervor. It is in those fleeting moments that you uncover the true meaning of your life.