Excellence in our midst

At 52 one can slip easily into the fallacy that one has seen it all, or that there is nothing new under the sun. But I was awestruck twice this last week. Both times were unexpected, and yet I should have known better. 

The first time was at the Crown of the Continent Guitar festival. Ever since the Festival started, I had wanted to go. However, I had never bothered to make arrangements to go. Then someone gifted us a pair of tickets. So we rallied, dressed up and got out the door. When we arrived we saw the usual array of food vendors, and a sparse crowd. The only thing different was that a high percentage of people were carrying guitars in cases, some of them extraordinary. Though I was impressed that people had come out for such a good cause, it seemed ordinary.  But when we got inside the main tent and were able to sit fairly close, the energy was crackling. We milled about, and began to realize that the people in the audience were from all over the country, and that many of them were exceptional guitar players in their own right.  When Mike Stern came on, the energy was palpable. Here was a world class performer playing for the most select and appreciative of audiences. Then if that weren’t enough, one of my teenage guitar heroes, Lee Ritenour, appeared nearby on stage. I knew of him since he grew up in my home town of Palos Verdes, California, and he had become famous in his twenties. Fourty years later, on this outdoor Bigfork stage, these two guitar gods belted out the best jam session I had ever heard. They were both laughing with glee and everyone in the crowd was smiling from ear to ear. It was a musical pinnacle of excellence. I just hoped someone was catching it for Youtube. 

The second time was at the air show. I have been to air shows before, and quite honesty was dreading the parking situation, the crowds, noise and fumes. But grandpa had invited us, and we would never disappoint him. Much to my surprise, he had secured places for us in a white tent on the 50 yard line, complete with a buffet. That was grand. But then the Thunderbirds started their performance.

I did not expect how it affected me. I was awestruck and stood silent looking up at the great machines and the extraordinary people within them. Yes I saw the engine fire and massive plumes, and witnessed the speed and the agility of the machines. But more than that, I felt a deluge of realization. Seeing them triggered an impression of all those present and past, who had made this moment possible. Images of all the early pioneers in aviation, engineering and space science came to mind.   One could be sure there were veritable generations of universities of people behind an achievement such as this. Would that they could have seen what I was seeing. So much excellence. 

I have seen rockets before. I have seen them launch at Cape Canaveral. Those jets are nothing less than rockets. Steerable rockets. I wanted to get close to one. So after the conclusion of the Thunderbird demonstration, I checked out the jet which was parked for display. My son Forest was already under the plane snooping around in its landing gear with one of the uniformed airmen. I crawled under there to see things from that perspective, to hear what they were talking about, and to take some pictures. It was only then, from underneath the jet, that I noticed that the crowd had formed a polite circle around the plane about 20 feet away. I wasn’t sure why they didn’t want to touch it. 

The crowds dissipated and we were making our way to the main exit thoroughfare when I noticed a small group gathering near the chain link fence toward where the Thunderbirds were parked. Forest wanted to leave and told me I couldn’t get to the planes. I went anyway. It turns out I could get to the pilots who were visiting with people over the fence !  Even better. I got to meet Major Caroline Jenson, Right Wing in #3. Again I was flooded with thoughts of what it took to achieve her position. So much excellence. 

I was once again reminded that world is full of magnificent things. We just need to get out and make an effort to experience them.