Illustration by Kate T. Williamson
Regained your eyesight after 33 years of blindness?"Simple everyday things bring me to tears. Watching butter being spread is fascinating. Cutting my meat without struggling gives me so much joy. I look at my husband and say, 'I did that myself.' I'm surrounded by so much beauty and color: my husband's blue eyes, the red pieces on the Candy Land game that my grandson and I play, the way the light hits the colored glass windows at church, the stark branches against the blue winter sky. I've been watching movies of my children when they were in high school, playing volleyball, acting in plays. Imagining them doing those things wasn't the same. I was 23 when I lost my sight, and my children were 2 and 5. When I see my young grandchildren, it's as if I'm looking at my children again when they were little—picturing how the wind blew my daughter's hair across the side of her face. I can't wait to witness my granddaughter's first steps. And I love watching my grandson dance. When he used to visit and wanted to play outside, he always knew that Grandma stayed on the deck. But I recently told him, 'Grandma isn't going to stay on the deck anymore.'" — Jenny Peterson, who received a prosthetic implant in January 2010 to restore the sight that she lost in 1976 after a reaction to antibiotics
What if you saw the world from the top of a 16-story tree?
Illustration by Kate T. Williamson
Saw the world from the top of a 16-story tree?"It's like climbing to outer space. There are millions of undiscovered creatures in every nook and cranny. Some are two feet long, some smaller than a raindrop. At 165 feet up, I'm the first to see rain on the horizon. There are 1,000 shades of green, and I usually can't see the forest floor. Sometimes I stay overnight, and it's too much fun to sleep. The tree's strong architecture is very protecting. The swaying lulls me like I'm a baby. At night the insects chew and chirp—it's a symphony by Mother Nature, Times Square in the forest." — Tropical rainforest canopy biologist and conservationist Margaret D. Lowman, PhD, who began taking her two children up with her into the treetops when they were 4 and 6 years old
Won $1,000,000 on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"When the million-dollar question popped up onscreen—Who posed as the farmer for the artist Grant Wood in his painting American Gothic?—I knew the answer before I even saw the four choices (it was Wood's dentist). At that point I knew I had won. I felt hot and started to squirm. There was no timer and they always encouraged us to talk our way through the answers, but I couldn't stretch it out any longer. I had to spit it out. Meredith Vieira and I both started screaming. Tears streamed from our eyes. We jumped from our chairs and gave each other a big bear hug. Confetti was flying, 600 people in the audience were going crazy; it was pure pandemonium. Later, as I drove home alone from the Tulsa airport in my dented Saturn, I screamed, 'I won a million dollars!' I'm still living in the same three-bedroom house and still teach at the same school. But now I can indulge my two vices—shoes and books—and buy pizza for my students." — Nancy Christy, a single mother of two who teaches eighth-grade English at Carver Middle School in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Argued your first case before the Supreme Court?
Illustration by Kate T. Williamson
Argued your first case before the Supreme Court?"The case centered on whether an immigrant who had fled persecution in his home country could remain in the United States while his immigration status was decided. After I took my place at the podium, I could hear the court fill with spectators behind me. My heart started to beat faster, but I tried not to turn around. When the justices walked in, they sat just five feet away. I felt starstruck, but they smiled at everyone. I read one sentence from my notes, but after that I found myself just talking to them as if they were interested colleagues. They interrupted with rapid-fire questions, but it actually felt like the ten of us were figuring out the answer to a puzzle. I kept telling myself that if I could convince the justices I was right, I could potentially save a man's life. I thought of my late grandfather, a lawyer in the Soviet Union who came to the United States to provide opportunities for his children. It would have been such a thrill for him to be there. But his spirit was with me." — Lindsay C. Harrison, an associate at Jenner & Block in Washington, D.C., who successfully argued the pro bono case Nken v. Holder before the court when she was just 30
Were stuck in a tent for ten hours while two lions circled outside?"We were putting out the campfire and someone yelled, 'Oh my god, lion!' The group leader told us to go to our tent, where we huddled together, terrified. Within minutes I could feel the ground shake, and then there was this boom. I never heard a roar, but the lioness's grunt was so fierce and deafening, we were shaking from the power. Here I was in a four-foot-tall weathered tent, bordered from a lion by a piece of nylon. We gravitated toward the middle. If we stayed by the sides, our limbs might accidentally touch the lion. After a couple of hours, we heard something new on the other side of the tent-a second lioness. Every 90 minutes, one of us mustered the courage to stick an eyeball out, only to realize time and time again that they were directly outside our tent-waiting for us. They each weighed about 300 pounds and stood around eight feet long. The pacing and rustling continued hour after hour. At first we whispered back and forth, but then we tried to keep silent. When it got dark, there were no lights, and the cats have night vision. It wasn't safe to check for them, so we just stayed put. When dawn broke around 4:30 a.m., someone peered out and announced that they had gone. There was an exhausted cheer. We could finally breathe." — Paul Rubio, who was working with the Kenyan wildlife service and camping on the outskirts of the Masai Mara when the lions arrived
Landed a twin-engine turboprop plane (after the pilot died mid-flight)?
Illustration by Kate T. Williamson
Landed a 10-seat twin-engine turboprop plane after the pilot died?"The pilot's head fell back, and I saw the whites of his eyes. We were on autopilot climbing 2,000 feet per minute north of Ft. Myers, Florida, and the sky was filled with numerous other planes. If we continued on our course, in about eight minutes we'd be at the aircraft's altitude limit, causing the plane to stall and spin out of the sky. I had piloted a small single-engine plane before, but never one this powerful—and I knew nothing about autopilot. Thankfully, a Miami air traffic controller who was also an experienced pilot came to my aid. She convinced me that I had to turn off the autopilot and fly and land the plane by hand. There were dozens of unfamiliar controls in front of me. One of our daughters was vomiting, and the other one was crying. I told my family to pray and pray hard. I was operating on pure adrenaline—a focused fear. When we flew over the Gulf of Mexico, the sky was a light blue that perfectly matched the light blue ocean. When the plane dipped below the clouds, suddenly I couldn't distinguish sky from sea or up from down. It was like driving a race car in the Indy 500 in pitch darkness." — Doug White, who in 2009 safely landed a King Air 200 in Ft. Myers, Florida, with his wife and two teenage daughters onboard
Performed the National Anthem at a professional baseball game before a crowd of more than 26,000?"Waiting at the dugout, I was grateful that it wasn't too warm and my hair wasn't frizzy. I concentrated on my first note. If I started too high, I'd sound like I was screeching. It was so noisy that I worried I wouldn't hear the announcer call my name, but when I got to home plate, it became surprisingly quiet. I closed my eyes and fortunately started on the right note. I was pointed toward the outfield and couldn't see any faces, but I could sense the crowd. All I heard was my voice reverberating around me throughout the stadium. I grew up watching Whitney Houston and Faith Hill perform at games. When I looked up and saw my face on the giant JumboTron, I thought, 'Who's that girl up there? Wow. It's me.'" — Jordan Shelton, who beat out 800 contestants to win the National Museum of American History's "Star-Spangled Banner" singing contest and sang the National Anthem at the Baltimore Orioles v. Atlanta Braves game on Flag Day, June 14, 2009
Came back to life after flatlining?
Dove into the ocean in subfreezing temperatures?"People ask, 'Why dive in Antarctica, where the water is 28 degrees? What could possibly live there?' But it's as rich as the tropics. Above the sea is the colorless world of penguins, black rock, white ice, and snow. Below are vibrant shell-less snails and sea peaches with splashes of pinks, purples, reds, and oranges—creatures you've never seen before, living in one of the harshest environments. And there are big, sexy predators like the humpback whale or the leopard seal, which glides like an underwater ballet dancer. When I first jump in, it's a shock to go from sweating in the boat to being enveloped by below-freezing water. But after a few minutes, my face becomes numb and I'm completely entranced by the incredible world surrounding me. Even with 150 pounds of gear, you're weightless. And all you can hear is the sound of your own breathing. About 30 to 45 minutes into the dive, I start to get cold, and it becomes a tug-of-war between wanting to stay in this extraordinary environment and needing to get to the surface. I feel such a completeness down below—t's like home." — Lisa Trotter, undersea specialist and marine biologist who was the first person to obtain her open-water certification in Antarctica
Came back to life after flatlining?"I was driving on the Long Island Expressway in icy conditions when my car slid off the highway. I remember hearing glass breaking and metal crunching before I blacked out. I was airlifted to the nearest hospital, but as the doctors worked to stop the bleeding, I flatlined. I remember watching the whole scene in the operating room from above, as if I were observing a stranger. It was really bright, and I could hear the doctors in gowns quietly talking through their masks and the metal clanging of the instruments. Then I saw my own face with my eyes closed and covered with blood, and thought, How could I be watching from above if that's me down there on the table? What the heck is going on? Up until that point, I really thought that I was watching some kind of surgical documentary. Then the vision suddenly ended. The doctors had restarted my heart. I was in a lot of pain, but I felt so grateful to be alive." — Thomas Foote, who "died" after a 1992 car accident and was brought back to life
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