The folded piece of paper sitting next to me is tattered and dog-eared for good reason – it’s been by my side for nearly 6,000 days and counting.
For 15 years I have folded, unfolded, and pressed the creases over and over with my fingers. It boasts coffee stains, wine stains, and all sorts of other breakfast, lunch and dinner marks. Because of this piece of paper, some truly magnificent things have come into my life. In fact, this little yellow piece of paper is how I got to meet Dewitt Jones.
‘The Folded Paper’ is part of an exercise I’ve facilitated for many years. Fold a piece of paper in half four times to create sixteen squares on each side. The task is to write something you want in each square. While it’s tempting to focus on material things, a toaster won’t enhance our story much. Instead, when we ask ourselves, “Where do I want to travel? What do I want to learn? Who do I want to meet? What do I want to create? What do I want to cause?”, we can come up with some rather brilliant ideas for which to fill both the squares AND our story.
It had been a particularly difficult chapter in my life at the time I filled one of my squares with, “Have dinner with Dewitt Jones.” My career required time on the road, my husband and I had two young children, and we had lost all six parents in a five-year period. Even with all the tools and training I possessed, I was having a devil of a time keeping my head above water with respect to grief.
I had been introduced to Dewitt’s film, ‘Everyday Creativity’, many years earlier. On a particularly low day I went in search for something that would help me navigate the heavy feelings I just couldn’t seem to shake. A quick search and I came upon his latest film, ‘Celebrate What’s Right with the World’. It spoke to every fibre of my being. So much so, I must have watched this film every single day for an entire year. I hung on his every word, and each time I watched it, I felt recalibrated. The subtle shift from focusing on what was wrong, to what was right in my life gave me strength, energy, hope and calm. A daily dose of Celebrate was the nourishment, and practice, I needed.
When I filled the square with my vision to have dinner with him (I think we have more meaningful conversations when food is involved) I didn’t know anyone who knew him, had no idea where he was, how to find him, or even if he was still on this earth. Fast forward many years, saw an ad online for a week-long photography seminar being held in Hawaii, on Molokai, and Dewitt Jones was the instructor. It didn’t take but a split second for me to figure out that with only sixteen spots, the chances of me being able to at least sit at the same table with Dewitt during dinner was pretty great.
My mind was suddenly racing with possibility at the thought that this might be my chance to meet someone who had become one of my heroes. My excitement was starting to peak at the idea of putting a big ‘ol checkmark through that square, when right out of left field, Negative Lauri showed up and pulled me back down to where I ‘belonged.’
“What are you thinking?”, she said in a dark, unhelpful tone, “You don’t shoot at a National Geographic level! You still shoot on auto, for crying out loud! Don’t make a fool of yourself…you don’t belong there!”
Ugh. I don’t like her very much.
I chewed on the idea for several days, oscillating back and forth between “Just forget about it and move on!” and “You can do this, find your courage and send in the registration!”
Feeling pressure that the sixteen spots might fill before I took a chance, I found the courage to send Dewitt an email. While helping him to understand that I might be his biggest fan, I tried to make light of my hero worship by promising him that a restraining order wasn’t required…I wasn’t THAT kind of fan. But I was honest about my photographic skills, how I had used his film to guide me out of a deep hole, and why I wanted to go. About a week later the phone rang in my office. “Lauri? Hey, it’s Dewitt Jones.”
I fought back the tears and somehow managed to find my voice. We had a delightful conversation and with the familiar grace and compassion I recognized from watching his films, he said, “I think you should come.”
In terms of photography, the week-long seminar for me was the equivalent of the kid with the short legs running the race as fast as they could, while the long-legged skilled photographers lapped me many times over. But I didn’t care, photography wasn’t my main reason for attending. And the participants and other instructors were patient and generous to help me cross the finish line with whatever we were shooting.
I brought my worn folded piece of paper to Molokai, and on the final night of the seminar, Dewitt and I sat away from the crowd, with our dinners on our laps. I passed him the folded paper. He did the honor of crossing the square out for me, added that big ‘ol checkmark, and dated it.
Enroute to Molokai, I remember hoping I would meet the kind, mindful, wise, gracious, generous man I had seen in the films. I did…and so much more.
Since then, Dewitt and his wife Lynette have become cherished friends, and I’ve had the privilege of working with Dewitt and the Celebrate project since 2010. I have grown in countless ways and we have big plans for Celebrate in the very near future. But here’s the key take-away for me in all this.
What I learned from this experience, is to choose to become the person who has the courage to ask the Universe for what they want. When I wrote “Have dinner with Dewitt Jones” it was bigger than me. In other words, I had no idea at the time how I was going to achieve it, or what skills or elements of my character I needed to develop to make it a reality. I just knew it was really important to me. The cool part about all of this is that we don’t have to know HOW we’re going to accomplish something when we set the goal. All we have to do is set it, and the mental radar we have in our head will go to work, looking for clues for the thing we’ve said we want. That’s how I was able to notice the ad for the photography course.
We can ask the Universe for the things we dearly want. Things we’ll look back on in the fall and winter stages of our life, and say, “I’m so grateful I…had the courage, found a way, took the time, and made the choice to do that.”
In a commencement speech, Jim Carrey said, “Now, fear is going to be a player in your life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future. But all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in the moment, which are based on either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the Universe for it. I’m saying, I’m the proof that you can ask the Universe for it.”
I’m that proof too.