What a brutal trip. All told, I was on US soil for 18 hours, and spent 42 hours in transit. Needless to say, I’ve been recovering ever since.

As my trip progressed, certain things started to go wrong. Toronto Pearson started the downward slide. For being a technologically advanced airport, they were awful. The immigration area is completely automated, and I sat and sat and sat waiting for my name to pop up. I was running close to missing my flight, so I eventually asked someone what was going on. They told me my name wasn’t showing up because my baggage hadn’t arrived. Frustrated, I asked them how long I would have sat before someone informed me of this. I rounded the corner, still frustrated that my bag was missing and faced a US immigration line of no less than 50 people. I checked my phone and realized I had 30 minutes to get to my gate. I asked the gate agent if there was a priority line. She said there wasn’t. I had to stand in the normal line. Several people in line had less time than I did, and like me they had been delayed by Pearson’s automated system, had gotten lost in the shuffle and watched in terror as their two-hour layover turned into a mad rush and the risk of a missed flight. Eventually out of desperation, they asked people in line if they could move up. Everyone in line was accommodating, agreeing that they could move up in the line. That’s when a yellow-shirted teenage Pearson employee decided it was time to press his power advantage. He raised his voice and told everyone to get back into their original places, that it was, “against airport policy to cut in line”. This didn’t go over well, and eventually a gate agent and an immigration officer got involved, and they backed the teenager’s power play. There would be no cutting in line. I had never heard of anything so absurd. I made my flight, barely. The dozen or so people in front of me did not. 

Needless to say, I was not in the best mood.

I was running to every flight thanks to short layovers and delays. Then I landed in Harrisburg without my bag. The moment I landed, I headed to the hotel and started unwrapping packages that had been sent from all over the US. Without my luggage, I didn’t have any crates to pack in so I had to reuse shipping boxes. This was so frustrating because I knew (just knew) the boxes wouldn’t survive the international trip and most of the stuff would be damaged. After a mad unpacking and repacking rush, I headed over to the university to meet Lesley (my go-to contact) for an equipment and sound check. I checked my phone: I had three hours to get the sound check done, get some dinner and get to sleep in preparation for the next day’s talk. Pressure, pressure, pressure. 

Lesley was a joy. The university and it’s staff was accommodating, professional and kind despite the fact that they were working late for me. My mood lightened a bit as I realized I wasn’t the only one working tonight. In light of my lost luggage, Lesley offered to swing by a CVS and I agreed wholeheartedly. You have no idea how amazing a shopping trip to CVS can be after hanging out in Africa as long as I had.

I bought a few essentials (joyous!) and hung outside of CVS waiting for Lesley. I sat down on the curb bundled up in a thin jacket against the bitter and unfamiliar cold and started opening up my treasures. Ibuprofen for the headache, washed down with bottle of Turkey Hill peach iced tea. Deodorant for my two-day un-showered armpits. A pair of clean socks and foot powder for my aching, sweaty feet.  A customer walked by rather quickly and as I looked up, they looked away, embarrassed and uncomfortable. Then it hit me: she thought I was homeless. I looked and smelled the part.

And in that moment, the storm clouds broke and I realized I had a lot to be thankful for. Here I was on an all-expense paid speaking gig in the US. I just spent $30 in CVS and that was like Christmas. I had two boxes of computer hardware (for the Pi’s), leather tools and dyes and other fun stuff in my room, gifts from donors. I was getting paid decent money for this trip. I was blessed.

In that moment, I found joy. It wasn’t because of the stuff, but because I realized I had a home, a family that I loved, and a purpose in life. Despite being unemployed, I wasn’t on the street.. yet. That joy poured over until I found myself sitting on the curb in front of the CVS smiling like a fool and that made me look even more homeless.

Through the next 18 hours, I did my best to let that joy stay on the surface, to allow it to be present, no matter what my circumstances. And it was a great trip.

The Cybersecurity Summit was fantastic. Harrisburg University was simply stunning. Shiny and modern, and easily one of the best presentation setups I had ever seen. My sponsors from Deloitte (Srini Subramanian, Lesley Rogers, Katherine Kann and Affan Syed from Deloitte) were fabulous, and it was an honor to meet so many decision makers for the state of Pennsylvania. In attendance (and speaking) were Chief Information Officer for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Tony Encinias and the Director of the South Carolina Information Technology division in Jimmy Earley, who spoke in great detail about the lessons learned during the now-infamous SC data breach.

The talk went well, the conference was amazing and it was a real honor to meet such great folks. I enjoyed a wonderful lunch (pizza!) and gave a second talk in the afternoon at Deloitte. That talk was less formal, quite different, and fun. But I started and ended late. Affan drove me to the hotel, I frantically finished packing and we headed to the airport. I arrived late, exhausted and with every reason to be freaked out. But I wasn’t. Joy prevailed, and you know what, things went smoothly. My bag was arriving on the very plane I was leaving on, and I had a leisurely problem-free walk to the gate, where I had time to watch my bag unload and reload onto the plane and enjoy an Auntie Anne’s pretzel, which wasn’t nearly as good as I remembered.

The rest of the trip was amazingly smooth. I had a row to myself on every flight, and even made a surprising friendship with a Toronto Pearson employee when I got turned around. 

It’s easy to think that I simply got good “vibes” because I was in a good mood (The Secret, anyone?) but I prefer to believe that joy is there, no matter what our circumstances, if only we take the time to realize it.

I’m glad to be back, but I’m even more glad I was able to find joy in the madness.