No advice, just stars — two Zen good/bad luck stories

By Lauren Edwards

I don’t know if everything happens for a reason, but I can tell you that only twice in 18 years has a workshop of mine been canceled. Both times, I was eclipsed by stars, once by a movie star and once by a planet-hunting space telescope that searches the orbits around stars.

We all have our own Zen good/bad luck stories. Here are two of mine. I hope they remind you that bright sides are just around the corner. Life works that way, right? Happy/sad, rich/poor, healthy/not, got it/totally lost — they tumble over each  other like the opposite poles of a runaway beach ball.

Last month, I was meant to give a workshop at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field near Mountain View. I was super-excited, having spent many hours creating new workshop material just for them. I couldn’t wait to be with them.

But an “unfortunately timed event” got in the way, as my contact put it. I didn’t ask for specifics, assuming it was sensitive. It sounded big. Later, I was told it was a “full end-of-mission announcement.” Wow, I thought, feeling awe in advance about I-didn’t-know-what. I mean, NASA’s back yard is the entire universe after all.

I felt small in a pleasant way. In my mind’s eye, as if in a darkened theater, a 3D movie served up “clusters of stars, faraway galaxies and a handful of solar system objects, including comets, objects beyond Neptune and an asteroid closer to Earth,” as NASA might put it (and did, in a beautifully written blog).

On the workshop day, headlines appeared everywhere from the New York Times to Sky & Telescope.

I’ll let you read about it yourself. But in short, I was displaced by the Kepler Space Telescope’s running out of fuel after nine years of discovering 2,600-plus planets.  That it was running out of fuel and that it would be powered down was known. But the exact timing wasn’t. The unfortunate part was the announcement’s falling on our workshop day.

The other time was 2007.

NASA beats Tom Cruise (entire universe including space and time and all of their contents versus … ho-hum, merely a worldwide box-office legend), but still, I’ll tell you about Tom as well. I ended up shaking his hand, which isn’t like me. I’m not a fan-type … unless we’re talking about the Golden State Warriors —that would make me loopy.

In 2007, I was on my way to Yahoo when my contact there told me, “No one will come to the workshop.” Tom Cruise — who was friends with Yahoo’s CEO, Terry Semel, formerly head of Warner Brothers — was piloting in for a visit. The company decided to host an Ellen DeGeneres style interview in an auditorium. Living-room furniture cozied up the stage and the two men talked about old times. Cruise shared his passion for “telling stories” and conjuring emotions that both he and his audiences can feel.

My contact invited me to listen in, as a kind of consolation. I ended up seeing him twice more that day, once in a nearly empty hallway where we happened to pass each other (unexpected!) and then again for the handshake.

I had debated accepting the invitation because, like I said, I wasn’t starstruck. But when I left Yahoo that day, I was a fan. I appreciated the quality of Tom’s eye contact — with as many people as he could include — and the full presence he gave each person he spoke to. He almost literally shines from the inside-out. A star. Yes.

And now Kepler. I feel honored by mere association with this venerable cosmic explorer. I’m two for two  — so far only ever displaced by a movie star and celestial stars.

Feelin’ lucky!

So-called mishaps grab us by both ears and yell, “Pay attention!”

I feel deepened as a person when I look back on many events that I once wished were not occurring.

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Lauren Edwardsis a former reporter for the Associated Press. She has been creating, customizing and delivering workshops for science communicators and technology PR teams since 2000.  She’s a warm-hearted designer of “ah-ha!” moments.

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