“Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.” – Boris Pasternak

There are two types of surprises: welcome and unwelcome. Because they are, by definition, “surprises,” both experiences tend to arrive unexpectedly, seemingly out of the blue. Take for example, the first time I visit Moody Gardens. Brought here by a Houston-based client to create one of my teambuilding treasure hunts, I arrive on my scouting mission expecting to find some kind of actual “garden”. You know, plants, trees, a hedge row labyrinth perhaps. To my welcome surprise, what I find instead are three massive pyramids looming over the Gulf like the ancient burial structures in Giza. Unlike their Egyptian cousins, however, these pyramids are not mausoleums. Far from it! Inside each of these buildings, constructed entirely from glass, resides a first-rate museum. The Aquarium pyramid – one of the largest in the region, showcases a variety of local fish and marine animals. The Rainforest pyramid contains a large range of rainforest plants, animals, birds, butterflies and reptiles. (Don’t miss the free-roaming monkeys and the two-toed sloths!). And finally, the Discovery Pyramid focuses on science-oriented exhibits and activities. Along with the 3 pyramids, Moody Gardens also features a Palm Beach, with white sand imported from Florida.

Interestingly, Moody Gardens began (in the mid-1980s) with a horse barn, a riding arena, and a hippotherapy riding program for people with head injuries. As it grew to become an island tourist destination with millions of visitors a year, the site has still managed to retain its educational orientation, providing horticultural therapy as well as education and employment for persons with a range of physical and emotional disabilities.

None of this I expect. In order to have an untainted impression of my hunt locations, I tend to do little research beforehand, hoping to experience each site with fresh eyes and a “beginner’s mind.” Moody Gardens surprises and delights me, both with its first-rate pyramid museums and its commitment to therapy and education. Of course, my reaction could’ve gone to the other extreme, like, “Hey, where are the gardens? I wasn’t expecting no stinkin’ pyramids!” But that’s the thing about surprises, I guess. YOU get to control whether they’re welcome or unwelcome. And, no surprise, Moody is a WOW place.

(Is surprise always a gift? As I mentioned in an earlier post, “unwelcome” surprises most definitely happen in life. In the moment, it’s natural to decry the unexpected event that fate brought down upon you. Losing your job. Breaking a bone. Contracting an illness. But afterwards… that’s when you have an opportunity to re-narrate the story, to spin whether the surprise is actually “good” or “bad”. As Michael J. Fox said recently when asked about his Parkinson’s: “It’s been a gift because it’s given me an audience to talk about what’s possible.”)