Eric Spitznagel’s story of people piecing together clues and hunting for not-buried treasure amidst the splendor of the Rocky Mountains grabbed me from the get go. It wasn’t a made-up story, mind you, but a report about a real-life adventure, something my family could join in.
My husband, one son and I ARE planning a trip to Yellowstone in another month. How cool to be able to consider planning a hike around deciphering the puzzle. The idea that the clues to the treasure are contained in an out-of-print book with limited copies, struck a note of golden tickets to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Yet unlike the chocolate factory locked behind gates, the real treasure and wonder — not a pile of gold coins — but the Rocky Mountains themselves — beckon us every day with open arms if we can just steal away. The whole story electrified me, I was suddenly wide awake despite the early hour and short night’s sleep.
That I had come across the article was a fluke. Riding Amtrak, having forgotten to pack a snack, I had bought a breakfast sandwich and coffee. The sandwich was drippy and juggling it and the coffee over my laptop seemed a bad idea, so I picked up the magazine lying on the seat next to me and opened it to the article.
I was hooked by the second paragraph and kept reading beyond the time it took me to eat. Wanting to email the article to my husband and son, I looked for an online version of it by Googling ‘Rocky Mountain treasure Forrest Fenn’. I opened the links that came up on NPR and Business Insider, eager to learn more. But the writing, the storytelling, the fun just wasn’t there in the other articles. If Eric Spitznagel hadn’t told the story in the way that he had, I’d have missed it. I added his name to my Google search, found an online version of his article and sent that link to my husband and son.
Suddenly I thought about the day before in church. A pastor had begun the children’s lesson confidently.
“We’re going to play a game called ‘Electricity.’ We line up like this and each person takes the hand of the person on either side of us. I’m going to give a squeeze to the hand of the person next to me and then when each person feels their hand squeezed on one side, they should in turn squeeze the hand of the person next to them on the other side. When the squeeze travels all the way down the line to the end of the line, you” she nodded to the girl at the end, “should say, ‘God loves us.’ Okay?”
She repeated the instructions and then stood at one end of the line and squeezed the hand of a child. As we watched, we could see children’s heads turn as the hand squeeze went down the line until it reached a very small boy. Another woman, helping, whispered a bit of instruction in the boy’s ear and soon heads were rotating and the squeeze moved on. But then heads stopped turning and the remaining children’s faces waited expectedly.
“Did it make it all the way to the end?” the pastor asked. “If you feel a squeeze on your hand, squeeze the hand of the next person in the line,” she reminded them.
No response. Lots of hopeful looks.
“Maybe we should try again,” she suggested and everyone chuckled. Kids, they do the darndest things.
She repeated the instructions and once again took her position at the head of the line.
Again, four or five children turned and looked down at their hands, first at their right hand, then at their left as the squeeze moved down the line and then imperceptibly the movement faded away. The pastor walked to the other end of the line and asked the little girl at the end if she had felt anything. Tears filled her eyes.
“Oh, don’t cry, honey. It’s not your fault,” said the pastor. “It’s not your fault,” she repeated, trying to explain. She hesitated a bit as she herself grappled with the unexpected turn of events, then continued, “You see sometimes when we give a message to someone else, they don’t always receive it the way we think they might. Sometimes, even though we might think our instructions are very simple and clear” she paused, her pained expression bringing a few more chuckles, “we forget that some people squeeze hard and other people squeeze softer, so you might not be sure your hand has been squeezed. So you aren’t sure whether to squeeze the next person’s hand or wait a bit longer.” “It’s okay if the message doesn’t travel along exactly like we expected,” the pastor said, “maybe we have to learn to try a slightly different approach or know that our message only went half as far as we thought it would, but that’s okay.”
I liked what she said. It’s good to send out a message. It may be passed along from one person to another but you can’t predict how far it travels.
And now one day later, I thought about it again. Eric Spitznagel put out a message. An editor at Amtrak magazine passed it along. I loved it, and… you get the idea.
In today’s media blasted world, I like the idea that messages are still quite simply passed from one human being to another. They are passed through writing, story and example. Messages of hope, encouragement, and adventure, all travel in ways we cannot predict.
Give a squeeze today. A smile, a note…
Be the start of something electric.