(This post is long, but I promise it's a good one!)
My uncle, Paul Winkelman, is so very, very talented. If you've seen High School Musical or the opening ceremonies of the Utah or Greece Olympics, then you've seen some of his choreography. If you've watched Dancing With the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance, then you've watched some of his pupils.
In other words, Paul is made of awesome and he helps lots of other people/projects become incredible works of art.
In September, Paul is taking a team of college-aged ballroom dancers to China to perform at an international Folk Dance festival.
When Paul called to see if I could hand deliver the team's passports to the Chinese Visa office, I of course said yes. (Maybe some of the awesome will rub off if I help? Maybe.)
Now getting Visas to anywhere, especially China, is a complicated process. You need invitation letters, gads of paperwork, duplicate pictures, itineraries...you get the idea. I should have known that there were going to be a few issues. (I mean, hello, I flew to Brazil on an expired Visa, but that's a story for another day).
Here's where the first miracle comes in: I convinced my friend Stacy to come with me on this adventure. If it would have been me and my newborn baby, what happened next would have been impossible.
The line at the Visa office wasn't awful for a government agency. We waited thirty minutes, and then it was our turn at the window. I shoved the package through the little slot, smiled at the girl, and planned to turn around and walk away.
Nothing is ever that simple.
"Go to the copy machine," the visa-processor said. "Make a copy of every passport and one invitation letter for every eight passports. Collate the paperwork, sort it into groups of eight, highlight the names each invitation letter refers to and come back to my window."
I looked at Stacy, at the pile of paperwork, at my hungry baby and said, "I'm sorry, what?"
She, quite patiently, explained the process again and added, "And be back at 12:30. We close for lunch then."
It was 12:05.
Here's the second miracle: The copy machine charged a quarter per page. There were 32 passports and 36 other pages that needed to be copied. Where in the world was I going to get $16 in cash? For some inexplicable reason, I had $8 in quarters in my purse. Eight. Dollars. (No wonder my purse weighed so much). I also had six dollars in cash. It wasn't enough, but I didn't worry. I figured I could borrow some money from Stacy.
During my frantic copying session, Stacy carried my baby a half-mile back to the car to add more change to the meter. Guess what? She used the last of her change and her credit card to make sure I didn't get a ticket.
So there I am, panicking, sweaty, and without another penny to feed the machine. The security guard, who was stationed nearby, gave me the last two dollars. Even just typing that makes me want to cry. He didn't know me, but he helped me.
And he wasn't the only one. At 12:25 a flight attendant (who was also waiting for her visa to be processed), helped me collate my huge stack of paper.
"Go get back in line. I'll finish this," she said, shooing me away. And she did.
I took the first stack of passports and waded back into the fray of wait-ers. At 12:31, I finally made it to the window.
"Can we start with these? The others are being put in order."
The passport processor took the stack and then shut the window in my face. I can't blame her. People kept getting in line behind me. She wouldn't have gotten a lunch unless she cut us off somewhere. I just happened to be the recipient of the window slam. (She totally redeemed herself later).
Stacy, my always optimistic friend, smiled and said, "Let's find some place great to have lunch!"
So we did.
At this point, you're probably thinking, "What else could go wrong?"
Well...it's visas for a trip to China. Because of the type of invitation letter, they had to register for an atypical type of visa but no one knew that until we were at the window. Instead of sending us away again, visa-processing girl helped us white out, fill-in and alter every application. How many government workers actually help you? Not many in this type of position, I'm sure.
Guys, I could have looked at the day as a disaster, but I was too amazed by all the small miracles and wonderful people. Eight dollars in quarters? Friends who are willing to calm hungry babies and pay for your parking? Security guards who spot you change? Flight attendants who help you collate paperwork?
The evening news makes it easy to forget how many good people there are in the world. But they are out there. I don't know the names of these people, but I'm so very, very grateful for their help.
These small acts of kindness will have a big effect on the thirty-two people who get to go China and the thousands of people who get to see their show!
Simple acts make great things possible.