For several months now, this webpage has been headed by a banner advertising TAM 7. As a member of the JREF forum, I had been following the excitement surrounding the event for some time. I followed much more closely when I learned I was the fortunate recipient of a scholarship and would be attending myself.
I arrived on Thursday not quite sure what to expect. I knew I'd be overwhelmed. But I thought what would overwhelm me was going to be the experience of being in the presence of celebrities. That's what we're led to believe, that famous people are awe-inspiring. I met so many of them. I had my picture taken with Banacheck, Mac King, Penn, Phil Plait, Jamy Ian Swiss, Teller, the Great Tomsini, Captain Disillusion, and of course Randi, whom I had the pleasure of sitting next to during the entire magic show. As amazingly cool as all of that was, though, it's not what really astounded me. What has really touched my heart, what overwhelmed me, is the kindness of simple, ordinary people.
To put the significance of this into context, I need to give you some of my background. I have ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It has left me (more or less) wheelchair bound, with excessive weakness in my hands and arms. As if that weren't enough, it has also left me with a severe speaking disability. This makes daily living difficult, to say the least. The prospect of a 2,500 mile trip by myself was daunting, and seemed to court disaster. Well, disaster was not only averted, it never had a chance.
Here were people I had never met, people I had only known as anonymous nicknames on the JREF forum, and yet they took me under their wing. They arranged for me to get there, got me a place to stay, met me when I arrived, invited me to join them for dinner, pushed my wheelchair around, opened doors for me, picked up all the crap I kept dropping, took the time to sit and talk with me, waited exceedingly patiently while I struggled to scribble a sentence or two, said "It is such a pleasure to meet you", and meant it. These people, every single one who made eye contact with me and smiled, they are the reason this was an Amazing Meeting. I overslept and missed Adam Savage's talk because I was up so late the night before shooting the breeze with fellow JREFers (and it was totally worth it---sorry, Adam!). If not one single speaker showed up, it still would have been well worth it.
It occurs to me that there are those of a religious bent who have said that skeptics, particularly atheistic ones, do not have a moral code to live by. And yet I spent four days in the company of skeptics who have proven that they live by the most basic moral code of all, the one most others are based on and without which would be useless: do good things on a daily basis, be kind to other people, and enjoy the time you have to spend with them. Sure, you could add another 635 rules and regulations on top, but what it really boils down to is what I witnessed. Do good. Be kind. Enjoy life.
I went to TAM this year to hear some famous people speak. I'll be returning next year to spend time with friends.