After four hours of much needed sleep, I find myself at the bar of the Cornado Café at South Point in Las Vegas. It is 6:00am, and I am eating alone. I find this experience odd, not because I'm up this early, but because this is likely the only time today that I will be left alone with my thoughts.
We've had a tremendous couple of days at TAM. Despite the expense in this challenging economy, we've managed to bring over 1000 people from all over the world into the desert to talk about science and skepticism. It's nearly impossible to express how important this is.
There is something happening. I don't know if it's a movement, a zeitgeist, or a mere correlation, but people are fired up about skepticism. FIRED UP. I walked into a bar near midnight last night for my 15 minutes of free time that day, and people started cheering. They weren't cheering for me... I haven't done anything noteworthy in the past couple of days (except maybe falling off the stage.) They were cheering for all of us. They were cheering for the truth.
And the truth is that there is a core of "goodness" in people, especially the people that come to TAM. "Skeptics" and "Atheists" and "Heathens" and "Choose Your Labels" have been criticized throughout time as being angry, selfish, and hellbound. And yet this weekend, I've witnessed people doing the following:
- An entire family with little money was flown to TAM, put up in the hotel, and welcomed into the events by anonymous donations. (Over 50 people were helped by our scholarship program).
- A gentleman who won an auction for a signed flag from our Galapagos cruise donated the flag back to the JREF, and then bid it on again as we auctioned it off. He nearly won the auction too, though it was won by another generous TAMster.
- Enough money was raised to vaccinate over 100 kids this weekend. That's 100 kids who are now protected against measles and other deadly diseases.
- Alison Smith started the SkeptiLove.com project, which documents acts of compassion from "non-believers." Hoping to raise a few hundred dollars for a local food bank, she was stunned to learn that in her first day, she'd raised over 1000 dollars, in addition to a trunk load of food that people brought from as far away as California.
- A gentleman with ALS came to TAM, alone. He moves very slowly, is non-verbal, and has many logistical challenges to overcome. To be frank, it's not likely that he'll live much longer. Upon learning this, Randi escorted him to the front row of the magic show, and sat with him throughout the performance. Afterwards, he turned to me and said "Thank you." I could see the effort he put into it, and all I could think was... "No, thank you." Time is very precious to this man, and he chose to spend it at TAM.
- I can't even describe Robert Lancaster. I'll just repeat what I've often said about him – he's the real deal. If you're looking for a hero to emulate, look no further. I'll leave it to others to tell his story.
This is a mere fraction of what I've observed, and I'm afraid fatigue has made my mind dull. (Coffee cup one of probably seven has just been finished.) If you'd like to add your own observations, please do in the comments below.
Literally dozens of people have told me that TAM is the biggest event of their year. This is the one place they feel at home and free to speak their mind.
These are our people. They are inclusive, welcoming, and growing. And many of them are here, and for that, I'm eternally grateful. For those who aren't here, rest assured, you really are. We're talking about you, writing to you, and inviting you to be as much a part as you can. Thank you for being there.