Friday, June 23, 2006

Sweet Dreams


I went to Emmaus, Pennsylvania today. I know... Emmaus. I didn't think it was such a good idea, either. But, that's where my company is headquartered, and it was intern lunch with the CEO day. I'm still new to the working world, but I already know that saying yes to the big boss is generally a good practice. So, off to Emmaus I went.

After a two hour bus ride, the other New York interns and I finally got to meet our Emmaus counterparts. It's funny, because it's when I'm away from Manhattan that I feel most like a Real New Yorker. The other city interns and I were dressed up for our big visit to corporate headquarters and the CEO, clad in black pants, high heels and enormous sunglasses. The Emmaus interns, dressed in khaki shorts and polos, told us they'd also gotten dressed up. Quaint.

Our supervisor gave us a quick tour of Emmaus and the company campus. Barefoot kids ran around, chasing each other. And birds. Old couples shuffled arm in arm down the street, licking ice cream cones. We saw the stoplight, which is a pretty major attraction. It turned three whole different colors. We stopped for coffee in the company cafeteria, where the chefs offered us homemade cookies, fresh out of the oven. Per the CEO's policy, I got a ten cent discount on my coffee because I used a lid. You never know what might happen when hot beverages are left uncovered. The offices were covered in needlework wall hangings, embroidered by the CEO in her spare time. We went through an old farmhouse, which doubles as the corporate retreat and meeting center. In the backyard, sitting at a picnic table under a tent, was a hunched old woman in mismatched clothes. The CEO.

After she'd shaken each of our hands (shaking all the while- like I said, she's old), she got up to give us her wisdom. Most CEOs talk about bottom lines, company growth, plans for the future and maybe some resume advice. While we ate our organic salad (from the on-site garden) and free-range chicken (from the on-site farm), she talked about losing her son to AIDS, losing her husband in a car accident, and fighting three bouts of cancer. She told us about walking up each morning, standing in the light, and saying thanks for another day. She recounted her first days as CEO, when she visited her employees- in their offices- and asked for advice on how she could best help them. She told us to always find what can be learned from an experience, and to use that knowledge to inspire someone else. And, most importantly, she told us to never ever lose sight of our dreams.

Her daughter had some words, too. She told us how her father took up skeet shooting, and learned to find the goal... follow the goal... hit the goal. She told us about her grandfather, who thought in terms of decades and centuries, not financial quarters. She talked about the landscape architect, who told her the tree garden would be finished in about 100 years... but he didn't mind not seeing the final product, because "I can see it in my mind and it is beautiful." She told us to never let work become our lives, and to find some sort of passion that stirs us from the inside. She told us that life isn't fair day to day, but it might be over a lifetime.

The CEO and her daughter gave us a tour of the farm and garden. We saw the children's camp, and the CEO told us that on rainy days, she invites them to watch movies in her basement. We saw the moon garden, where executives can meet when they need a change of scenery. I traded my high heels for the flip flops in my bag, and rolled my pants up to my knees. We saw the house where a Kosovo refugee family (sponsored by the CEO) lives. We waded in the pool.

Now even though I'm new to Manhattan, I still consider myself a city girl. Through and through. The tall buildings, throngs of people and busy clip of life- that's what I consider Real. And in New York, I'm smack in the middle of Real Life. This is where everything important happens, I know. But today, in that giant farm in the middle of nowhere, I started having some funny thoughts. Maybe the rolling hills and the canopies of trees are Real. Maybe it's Real when as far as the eye can see in every direction, it's all green. Maybe Real is the kids who laugh and shout, and the old CEO who wakes up every morning and says thanks. And Manhattan... maybe Manhattan is just an enormous fantasy. A lot of distraction, a lot of excess, a lot of noise.

We hugged the CEO good-bye, and got back on the bus. I slept through the ride, and woke up as we pulled into Port Authority. As I rubbed my eyes and yawned, it took me a minute to seperate Emmaus from my dream. The green hills I'd dozed off to had turned into rows of buildings and lines of cars. I rolled down my pants, slipped on my heels, and stepped outside. It was loud and dirty and crowded, and I merged into the masses just fine. My dream journey was nice, but back in the city, I was sure it was just that- a dream. A nice fantasy, sure, but no Manhattan. The millions of other people, each absorbed in their own mission, assured me that right here is as Real as it gets. Right here is where I need to be.

I sort of wish a little bit, though, that Emmaus wasn't so easy to forget. That break from Real (or was it a trip to real Real?) was nice. A good dream.

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posted by Lion @ 6/23/2006 01:39:00 PM |

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