Thursday, December 21, 2006

Unexpected gift

My mom and aunt and I decided to take the Adorables (translation--nephew and niece) to the San Diego Wild Animal Park the other day. During the holidays, the Park puts on The Festival of Lights, which features beautiful decorations, extended hours, plus different arts and crafts stations that allow the kids to be creative and to squee a lot.

But there was a bonus in going to the Park for me. See, years ago, back when I was a nugget just out of high school, I decided to work for a year, take some community college classes, then apply those general ed. classes to a state college. It ended up being a really good decision for a lot of reasons, mostly in that I saved a decent amount of money and that I was hungry to go to the BIG COLLEGE while working toward my goal. Another reason was that I got to work at the SD Wild Animal Park.

For those of you who don't know, this is a wild life park like no other. It opened in 1972 and provides a refuge for endangered species; their breeding program for nearly extinct animals is extremely impressive. While I was never an "important employee" like a keeper or a vet, I felt like I was doing something worthwhile working as a ticketseller, a "visitor assistance officer," a switchboard operator, an education assistant--or any of the hundred jobs I did during my tenure there. But as I went off to college and returned every summer to the Park, I started to forget how lucky I was to be working there. Guests who didn't read their maps or informational signs got on my nerves, and the administrative politics took the luster from my days. Going to this fantastic paradise week after week became rote.

I hadn't visited the Park since I left over ten years ago, and it was only now, with the passage of time, that I appreciate how fortunate I was to work in such a place. As I wandered through the main village, past the Congo River Fishing Village, past the meerkats, onto the Kilimanjaro Hiking Trail and to the Lion Camp, I took in all the changes: a new 3-D Dino Simunlation ride, a new Hidden Jungle exhibit, an army of new employees I didn't know. As dusk set, a lion's roar echoed over the treetops, and I realized that, when I was so much younger and dopier, I'd had a rare experience, and it was only in hindsight that I truly embraced it.

Happy Holidays, you all. I hope you find an unexpected present to unwrap within yourselves, too.

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