In September of 2002, I was living on Catalina Island and had a few days off. So, my then-girlfriend and I headed to the Happiest Place on Earth for kids: Disneyland. We had decided to only stay until 5pm, then continuing on to the Happiest Place on Earth for adults: Las Vegas. Shortly before that deadline, we both hit the bathroom underneath the snowy slopes of the Matterhorn. I emerged first and found a group of what appeared to be Buddhist monks in flowing purple robes standing around talking. Off to the side was one older figure who was sitting eating popcorn from a Donald Duck-themed bag. He looked very familiar to me. When she came out from the bathroom, I pulled her aside and said, ‘I think that’s the Dalai Lama sitting over there eating popcorn’. We both stared in disbelief for a couple of minutes, not trusting our own eyes. The Dalai Lama is, after all, the world’s most recognizable person (try it, close your eyes and picture that smile and those glasses). However, all we could come up with was ‘what would the Dalai Lama be doing in Disneyland?’.
We dismissed it and decided to hit one last ride and then head out. But after we got off the ride and started heading for the Main Street exit, the group of monks walked out ahead of us and then turned for Fantasyland, so we followed them. The group got into line for the Peter Pan ride and we casually walked by and stopped by the Sword in the Stone. I stared again for another five minutes or so and then walked over to their group standing in line. I thought for sure I was going to be tackled by security as I got closer, especially as he was standing with his back to me as I walked up. I mustered up the courage and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around and I found myself face to face with him. I said, ‘Excuse me, are you the Dalai Lama?’ and he replied ‘Yes, I am’. I extended my hand and said ‘Hi, I’m Derek. It’s nice to meet you’. He warmly held my hand for a few moments and then I said, ‘I hope you have a great day’ and then I turned and walked away. She asked me ‘Was it him?!’ and I said, ‘I just met the Dalai Lama at Disneyland’.
What does this have to do with scientific diving? Nothing, I suppose. But in the months after this happened, I read many books and interviews from the Dalai Lama and regardless of where you fall on the spirituality spectrum, his message couldn’t be more critical in this time: take time to care for yourself and be kind to others. As we all head into an uncertain and anxious Fall season, remember that in order to be responsible for others’ safety and well-being, we have to care for ourselves first. You never know what people are dealing with in their own lives so be sure to give them space and kindness to care for themselves as well. Maybe meeting the Dalai Lama had something to do with scientific diving after all.
University of Washington