short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In a Hurry

Mommy says that we kept her very busy, the four of us, when we were little, and that whenever she got things accomplished on time, she felt it was an achievement. When she got things done early, she knew it had to be a miracle—or a significant missing detail. Usually, it was the latter.

One morning she was very pleased with herself. For some reason, she was very efficient. We were all awake, washed, dressed, fed, and standing in line for our various school buses with our lunch boxes in hand, and Mommy had more time than usual before she had to leave for her bus stop.

While our buses were picking us up, she quickly dressed. Mommy always dresses quickly. When the last bus departed, she had ten extra minutes to make her bus, so she strolled to the bus stop. (She usually ran up to the bus just as it was about to close its doors.)

When she got to the bus stop, she sat down on the bench very ladylike, as if she did this every day instead of rushing up out of breath and disheveled. The bus stop was located on a major highway, so there were always lots of people around. Some of the Mommy recognized because they rode the bus often.

This morning one of the women she recognized asked if she had not forgotten something. Mommy wondered what it was that she usually brought that she did not have with her that day. She checked. She had her purse, her briefcase, even her spare umbrella, since it rained often in that city.

"Well," she said to the lady, "I cannot imagine what it might be. I seem to have everything I usually have."

"What about your skirt?" asked the lady.

Mommy ran home, really fast. This time, she was out of breath going away from the bus stop, not coming up to it.

Conclusion: Credit cards are not the only things that one should not leave home without.

This story is excerpted from a collection of vignettes that I helped Doah, my severely mentally challenged youngest son, to write and publish several years ago (copyright 2003). It was my attempt to help him understand literacy and the purpose of writing and reading.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


A man once committed a crime. He was very rich, and he inquired about the best lawyer around.

When the lawyer arrived and examined the case, he said, "Look, the evidence is overwhelming. You will be found guilty in a manner of minutes. There is only one way to get you out of this, but you have to do exactly what I tell you. From now on and until I tell you otherwise, no matter what you are asked, you are to respond by saying, ‘Shilabib’.”

"Shilabib? What does shilabib mean?"

"Nothing. It's not even a proper word. Now, stop asking me questions, and just follow my instructions."

Later, when the man was asked by the prosecutor what his name was, he responded, "Shlabib."

"Why did you commit this crime?"


"Did you act alone?"


"Are you mentally unstable?"


The judge decided that the man was mentally unfit to stand trial and that he should spend some time in a mental institute.

Later, the lawyer arrived to collect his fees. Smiling, he declared, "I told you I would get you out of this. You have to admit that I had a brilliant strategy, but, as I am sure you will understand, brilliant strategies are expensive."

The man just stared at his lawyer, nodded his head, and said, "Shilabib."

"Oh, that’s funny. That's really cute. You can stop saying ‘shilabib’ now, okay?"


"Listen, my friend, the case is over. I got you completely out of this mess. Now it’s time to pay me."


"I am getting tired of this."


“I was the idiot who taught you this game, okay."


The above story is excerpted from a book, Metaphors of Islamic Humanism, by my dear friend, Dr. Omar Imady, copyright 2005.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Five Lessons

Here are some lessons my brother Keith recently shared with me about the way we treat people. I don't know where he got them from and neither does he. They simply fell under his hand. We don't even know if they are true, but nonetheless they deserve to be shared.

Five (5) lessons about the way we treat people:

1. Cleaning Lady

During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions until I read the last one: "What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?"

Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50's, but how would I know her name?

I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade.

"Absolutely, " said the professor. "In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello."

I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.

2. Pick Up in the Rain

One night, at 11:30 P.M., an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rain storm.. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car. A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960's. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxicab. She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him.

Seven days went by and a knock came on the man's door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read:
Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband's' bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others.

Mrs. Nat King Cole

3. Always remember those who serve

In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10-year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him.

"How much is an ice cream sundae?" he asked.

"Fifty cents," replied the waitress.

The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it. "Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?" he inquired.

By now more people were waiting for a table, and the waitress was growing impatient.

"Thirty-five cents," she brusquely replied.

The little boy again counted his coins. "I'll have the plain ice cream," he said.

The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier, and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies. You see, he couldn't have the sundae, because he had to have enough left to leave her a tip.

4. The obstacle in our path

In ancient times, a king had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king's' wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way.

Then a peasant came along, carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand: every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.

5. Giving when it counts

Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare & serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister.

I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, "Yes I'll do it if it will save her."

As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheek. Then his face grew pale, and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, "Will I start to die right away?"

Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor. He thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.

May you always be overwhelmed
by the Grace of God
rather than by the cares of life!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

On the Wings of Serendipity

The first part of this story was posted eons ago here: Siberia on an Easter Morning. You can click and read and return to read Part Two (II), or, for ease, I have re-posted it under Part One (I) below. If you remember it, you might just want to skip to II.


“Khristos voskres” (Christ is risen). One person after another greeted me with these words as I climbed the stairs of the little, wooden church in Akademgorodok, a tiny town at the end of the man-made Ob Sea, bejeweling the Siberian steppe 45 minutes south of the city of Novosibirsk. The intertwining snow-covered birch and kedr (Siberian pine) trees created an illusion of a land of fantasy, made more so in the late evenings by the moon reflecting off the naked silver-white birch bark onto the dark red-brown trunks and evergreen branches of the pines. This was not yet the inhospitable taiga; it was somewhat south for that, but nonetheless the birch and kedr trees stood closely side-by-side like brothers-in-arms against a hostile white and cold universe.

“Voistinu voskres” (truly, He is risen). If my words of response rang hollow, there was a reason. They came from the lips of a bona fide atheist, convinced that religious congregations were delusional. Certainly, they contained well-meaning folks, ones often with great compassion, but nonetheless, in my opinion at that time, delusional. Raised in a so-called Christian home and an attendee, but not engaged participant, in Methodist and Baptist churches in my early years, I found no sense in the sermons of the ministers who were often more interested in tangible things than in holy deeds, no examples set by the deacons who were often bedding the wives of their friends, and no love of God in the raspberry-bush switches wielded by my parents that demanded their few ounces of blood every Sunday before we marched into church as a model family. God, to me, was a fantasy, created by evil-doers to make themselves feel better. When given a chance at the age of 16 to preach the Youth Sunday sermon, the topic of which was “The Christian Home,” I pointed out all of these things, to the great discomfort of the congregation. I concluded that sermon with the suggestion that considerable thought be given to the advantages of raising a child without hypocrisy, i.e. in an atheistic environment. From where came the audacity of a child to make such statements from a pulpit? I don’t really know. Perhaps I envied the lives of my peers who were not abused each and every day and in resentment needed to point out something wrong with their lives, too. Perhaps I had expected the church community to step in and rescue my siblings and me from our physical and sexual tormentors and blamed the people in the community when no one stepped forward. Perhaps the rage in which I was raised crimson-colored all the emotions of my childhood. In any event, that sermon ended my churchgoing days. My family had been asked to leave the church, and I had not been punished in any way. I suspect that my parents had feared that after such a sermon, were they to have hurt me as a result, I would have flounced into church with that announcement as well, completely destroying their reputations. Or perhaps their sense of the awfulness of what I had done paralyzed them into inaction. In any event, there being no other church within reasonable travel distance, I had spent the rest of my growing-up and adult years in the atheistic environment I had exalted.

My parents never lost their faith as a result of their excommunication, but they never again talked much about it in front of me. We no longer were forced to say grace at meals. Bibles disappeared from our bedsides onto the crowded bookshelves in our library. Although they never mentioned anything to me, looking back, I imagine that my parents felt that something became very broken in their lives that Sunday morning. At the core of their lives festered a desperate need to be respected by the community, perhaps fostered by childhoods in which neither had experienced much respect. Dad’s unusually high level of intelligence brought him only a sense of disappointment and failure when, in order to support his parents and five younger siblings during the Great Depression, he had to leave school in eighth grade and take a job as a shoe cutter, a trade he plied, along with farming, his entire life. Ma had always been the little doll of her family, if my great-aunt’s assessment is accurate, but had found herself rejected and ridiculed by classmates while her brother, who was in the same class, served as class president. As adults, my parents became community leaders, my father serving on the school board and my mother becoming actively involved in one social cause after another, looking for approbation from peers long ago grown up. We children suffered their anger when we failed to make up for their dissatisfaction with their own lives and their sense of underachievement, Dad intellectually and Ma socially. Their church activities provided them the lifeline with which they had clung to the community respect that they so desperately desired. I had cut that lifeline with one sermon.

As for me, I felt that something got fixed in my life that morning. No more hypocrisy. No more pretending to be a pew-filling, perfect family. No more Sunday morning races when I would refuse to get dressed for church, Dad would want to beat me into compliance, and I would run. As young as the age of eight, I could outrun Dad. I could also run far. Neighbors passing by enroute to church pretended not to see the two of us running—around the front yard, across the street, through the tall grass, and into the nearby woods, my long hair flying straight back into the wind and my father flailing a switch, usually broken off from a raspberry bush with healthy thorns for ripping flesh. I could feel the wind brushing past my face, the adrenalin coursing through my veins from fear of the whip and nerve endings on fire with the thrill of the race, my legs fueled by competing thoughts: the stubbornness to do what I wanted, the fear of a dire outcome should I slow down or stumble long enough to be caught, and exhilaration at the thought that just perhaps I could run away from all of it, from the switchings, from the name calling, from the hypocrisy of pretending that we were the picture-perfect family, and especially from pretending to love and obey a God who for me did not exist and whom my parents used as a threat. Only when my father lost the switch and was too spent to care any more about hitting me would I run home. Running back into the “burning house,” as my future brother-in-law would later call it, was the only option that ever entered my head for any neighbor in New England of those days would have brought me back to my parents. Having run home, I always ended up in church. There, sitting in a pew, watching Dad and Ma acting in a devout manner and being viewed by the church community as ideal parents, my anger toward them would reach a full but quiet zenith. After the church service concluded, my parents would accept the sympathetic comments of my friends’ parents, especially those who happened to catch a glimpse of our Sunday morning marathons. These people would knowingly smile, nod, and assent as to how difficult I must be to raise—and my rising anger and frustration at the unfairness of it all made me want to run again—far away from my parents, the church, and the complacent people in the church pews. I resented being abused, and I trapped the church and its people in the web of angry emotions that encompassed my teenage years. I never asked how others in my family felt about being alienated from the church. I did not care. I had been freed.

Until now. Now I was about to address another church congregation. It was the first time in 30 years I would speak to such a gathering.

Uttering the expected words of greeting as I mounted the steps to the vestibule of the church was not uncomfortable. They were, after all, meaningless to me. While I would have preferred another form of greeting, I had somehow managed to end up at this impressively humble Russian Orthodox Church on Easter morning. So, the greetings were to be anticipated.

As I reached the top of the stairs, a priest extended his hand. As I had been taught in advance to do, I kissed it. The priest smiled and said, “There is no need to follow our customs. I have been told that you are an atheist. I’m Father Grigoriy, and I am very happy to meet you at long last. I do need, though, to find some way to introduce you to the congregation. I have given this some thought and wonder if I may introduce you as a Good Samaritan?”

I knew the parable. Is there anyone who does not? It was one that we learned at school and at church although all too infrequently had I seen the people who thought it a wonderful story follow the example themselves.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

He answered: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

In reply, Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.

A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.

So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."

Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
I agreed with Father Grigoriy that my introduction as a Good Samaritan would be appropriate. Apparently, others had passed through this remote village in Siberia, had even met young Aleksandr Ivanovich, affectionately referred to as Shura, a teenage artist dying from complications of spina bifida (a congenital malformation in which the spine does not fully close during the first six weeks of gestation). These passers-through had expressed a desire to help him, but for whatever reason had not done so or simply had not been able to do so. they did nothing. They were like the beaten man’s countrymen who passed him by. Perhaps they thought they could not help. Perhaps they initially thought that they could help but ultimately could not. Most were from Russia, and Russia in the early 1990s, just emerging from 70 years of a failed experiment in communism, was an impoverished nation — except, of course, for the oligarchy and the mafia (often an intermixed group) that held the purse strings and power in the new “democracy.” Others were from foreign countries, and perhaps the complicated immigration laws gave them pause. The only fact that matters, though, is that they did not help, and not helping, regardless of circumstances, in my opinion at that time and now, is a choice. One can choose to pass by those who need help with the excuse that one does not have the needed resources, whether those be money, time, or skills, or one can stop and try to help, looking for the resources when they may not be in hand. I chose to stop. And now here I was at Shura’s church with him to share his recently rescued life with his neighbors on the day known as the Resurrection.

On wobbling prostheses, which he had not yet learned to control completely, and clinging to the railing, Shura, the pride of this tiny community, had triumphantly followed me up the stairs of the wooden church, his church. There he had been raised in a faith that carried him through the torments of childhood, the agony of waxing and waning hope that he would be able to come to the United States for treatment as he lay dying in a Siberian hospital, and the difficult decision, with which he was required to concur prior to surgery at Virginia State Hospital, to amputate both gangrenous legs and replace them with prostheses. It had been the kind of life that could challenge the faith of a saint. Yet, he was but a teenage boy, one with resilient faith that God would find someone to help him.

And now we both stood in front of a hushed crowd of Russian Orthodox believers. Father Grigoriy had just introduced me as the Good Samaritan who had rescued their Shura, the young man they loved and for whom they had despaired and now hoped. The crowd looked at me in eager anticipation. What was an atheist to say to this expectant gathering of believers?


Shura represented a significant challenge to anyone who chose to stop. Already a teenager, he had been hospitalized over and over at the local hospital in Akademgorodok. Well-educated by his mother, he had never been able to attend school, but he did play with the neighborhood children, many of whom taunted him for his inability to walk, to combat which he would resort to fisticuffs, developing a strong sense of self-determination and just a tinge of pugilism. The sac that contained the end of his spine had never been repaired, and his legs, which would eventually have to be amputated, were constantly threatening his life with gangrene. At the same time, he was a talented artist. At the age of 12, he had already had his first exhibit at Dom uchenykh, (the famous, government-supported House of Scientists that was part of the Academy of Sciences). By the age of 15, he had published both his art and his poetry, had had yet another exhibit at the House of Scientists, and had appeared in a television documentary about his unique talent and life. Also by the age of 15, it was clear that he would not survive without better medical assistance.

The question as to why I was the one who should help him is fairly clear. Who better to provide that assistance than a mother of another spina bifida child, who knew how to care for such children at home and also knew doctors who could help? Who better to pry a visa out of the U. S. Embassy in Moscow than a former State Department language program supervisor who had trained many of the diplomats working at the embassy? Who better to provide assistance to a speaker of Russian than someone who spoke Russian? Who better to help a child of the cold Siberian winter assimilate into California sunshine than a grown child of the cold Maine winters living in California? Who better to help a child from the wooded steppe than an American researcher who had lived and worked in the same steppe, loved the steppe and its people, and knew its literature and its culture? The number of instances of coincidence between what was needed and what I had learned or experienced in my life up until that point was truly amazing. Or was it so amazing?

Looking back, I cannot dispute the contention that my life has been filled with what I called amazing coincidences and what others called miracles. Some even say that coincidences are those times that God chooses to remain anonymous. That God was willing to use an atheist to help create miracles is a miracle in itself. Why God would so bless an atheist only the Almighty knows. How it was done was on the wings of serendipity—the ride of a lifetime.

Standing nervously in front of the expectant gathering at the little wooden church in Akademgorodok on that Easter morning after Shura’s first surgeries, I should not have worried about what to say. The minute I began to speak, an awed “ona govorit po-russki” (“she speaks Russian”) ran through the crowd. My ability to use the language effortlessly, thanks to earning my Ph.D. in Russia, along with my willingness to stop and help rescue Shura, predisposed all standing there to like me, regardless of whether or not I shared their faith. I shared their language and their love—of things Russian, of this young man, of Siberia—and that was enough.

So, I told them the story of Shura in America. To me, it was a great story of serendipity. To them, it was a story of a great miracle. Over time, I have come to realize that it is both.

This excerpt is adapted from my book, Blest Atheist (MSI Press, copyright 2009).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


In spite of being raised on a farm, far away from the rest of the wide world -- or maybe because of it -- I developed a great interest in pen pals as a child. At one count, I had a pen pal in every state of the country. They sent postcards of their towns and descriptions of their activities. I was fascinated by how different life could be. Then I found an organization that would put me in touch with pen pals throughout the world. How fascinating! These were places I never dreamed I would be able to see.

The fact that these pen pals spoke a language other than English quickly became apparent. One, in particular, had some difficulty communicating with me because of limited English; yet, her letters were full of fascinating information. She was from Mexico City and told me a lot about her city and its history. From time to time, she would send me some handcraft from there. I decided that it might be easier for me to write to her in Spanish, and so I asked for a Spanish language course on records for my birthday. I had noticed one such set when we had gone into town on a shopping trip.

The records were not expensive, but for a farmer with eight children and a non-working spouse, they were a little out of reach. So, I was promised the records -- when the money became available. My birthday came and went, and the money was not yet available. Christmas came and went, and the money was still not available. I did not ask again because I knew that if and when the money became available, I would get the records. That was not unlike many other hopes and desires in my early life -- expectations often had to be shelved for a long time. (However, when I was asked to choose a more realistic gift, I said that I would rather wait until the money could be saved a little at a time even if it took several birthdays and Christmases to acquire the records.)

Meanwhile, Alejandra and I continued to write in English, and her English improved. Still, I wanted very much to write to her in Spanish. Then, my birthday came again, and, surprise, there were the records!

I had waited so long for the records that they had taken on special significance. I whizzed through those Spanish lessons as if I were inhaling fresh air after a long day in a musty cellar. Within a week, I was able to write my first letter to Alejandra in Spanish. Was she surprised! After that, all our correspondence was in Spanish.

Was the wait worth it? Well, you judge. Not only did the wait inspire me to put greater effort into learning Spanish as quickly as possible to make up for lost time. Then, encouraged by that success, I took French, German, and Latin in high school and found pen pals in France and Germany to whom I could write in their languages. They were very patient with me, and knowing that I was a student of their language, they seemed to find enjoyment in sending my letters back to me with errors corrected. Then, in college, I took Russian, Czech, Yiddish, Hebrew, Japanese, and Italian, in addition to continuing to study French, German, and Spanish. Later, I learned even other languages from being in various countries. Over a period of time, I studied 18 different languages, and today those languages serve me in good stead as I provide, or have provided, consultation in multiple languages to educational institutions in more than two dozen countries. Those languages have allowed me to interpret for international events, sent me to the USSR as a liaison to the Soviet government for a group of US Senators' wives, and even got me a job early in my career supervising a language training program for diplomats and later in my career for astronauts and cosmonauts.

Ironically, I never met Alejandra, and today I no longer even have her address. However, I have visited Mexico on several occasions, and some of my publications have been translated into Spanish and sold in Latin America. For ten years not that long ago, I lived in the Hispanic part of our California town (for that matter, San Ignatio, where I now live, is mostly Hispanic and Spanish-speaking) and needed to use Spanish on a a near-daily basis. My early correspondence with Alejandra opened a door to a world that could only have been in the dreams -- not in the real-life planning -- of a farm girl. To get started, all it took was patience.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Wait, And Be Patient with Others

Sometimes problems are resolved simply by patiently waiting. Impatience can make the people who should or could help with the problem nervous. Patience creates empathy, or at least sympathy, and the desire to help.

Once in coming into Moscow from Uzbekistan without a Russian visa, I had no ticket to prove that I would be leaving in 72 hours and therefore eligible to enter on my Uzbekistan visa. My flight from Bukhara, a town on the Uzbekistan-Tadzhikistan border, to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan was smooth. In Tashkent, however, my plane to Moscow encountered technical difficulties, and it took me three days to reach Moscow. That meant I had to redo my ticket from Moscow to Houston, where I was living at the time. However, there is no Delta Airlines office anywhere in Uzbekistan, so the only possible way to redo the ticket was to have it changed in the computer at Sheremetovo II airport, from where I would depart Moscow for New York City. The unfortunate part of all this was that I was flying Transaero Airlines into Sheremetovo I, a different airport, located a few miles away from the one I would fly out of.

Upon arrival, I went to the transit point with the Uzbeks who were using Uzbekistan passports and airline tickets to pass through Moscow en route from one airport to another (Moscow has five airports). Everyone got through easily, except for me. My old ticket from Moscow to New York City, the required proof of departure, had expired the day before. The guard admitting the Uzbeks did not know what to do with me. So, he left to get his boss. I waited. (There was not much else I could do!)

When the boss returned, I patiently explained the whole story again to him. I did not act as if I were in a hurry. If they wanted to take all day, they could. I had no place special to be at any given time; my flight to New York was not until the next day. The boss allowed to the underling that I appeared to be trustworthy and that they might just let me through on my word.

"That's a grand idea," I said to him in Russian. He laughed and told me that I had yet another hurdle: passport control.

Off I went to passport control. There the guard frowned and asked how I had made it so far without a visa. I explained that the transit point guards had considered me harmless.

"Oh, then," he asked, "will they vouch for you?"

I had no idea what they would say. At the worst, I figured, I could always just wait until someone fixed the problem.

"Sure," I said with overt confidence although I was not sure at all.

It turned out not to be an issue; the guards vouched for me. I think they vouched for me because they liked the warm feeling they got from helping someone who was patient.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Friend's Good Fortune

The flight from Munich to New York had never seemed so long or so uncomfortable. Usually there was just enough time for all that one should do on a flight: have a meal at beginning and end, view a top-rated movie, and get a normal amount of sleep. On this trip, however, Laura, who had developed the envied skill of being able to sleep on planes since she had become an international news reporter and analyst eight years earlier, found herself counting the slow-moving minutes and hours until arrival. Although she was always assigned to some large city somewhere in the world, several times a month she was on a plane to cover some event in a smaller town. Her frequent flyer miles added up on all three airlines in whose extensive travel programs she participated, and she usually ended up giving away her free tickets to friends, so that they could come visit her in whatever corner of the world she happened to be at the time.

For the last three years, she had been working out of Munich, easily one of the most beautiful and historic cities to which she had been assigned. Munich was a quiet city, as far as news goes, so Laura had been doing much more analysis than reporting. The train system in Europe was very convenient, and the Eurailpass made traveling throughout the region quite affordable. Beginning with Bavaria and its interesting brand of German, which did not always match up with the Hochdeutsch that she had learned in school, Laura explored the people and customs of the greater region to which she had been assigned. Munich itself, the heart of Bavaria for Laura and the location of her apartment, typical in size for Europeans but small by American standards, had seemed like home almost immediately.

Laura traveled around town on the bus and Unterbahn (subway) system — so much more convenient than in New York — and much safer. She never did like to drive. Besides, riding the bus and Unterbahn gave her a chance to interact with people and get to know the region better. If she needed to make a foray into the countryside, she could rent a car or better yet, go with local friends who were planning such a trip.
Her travels allowed her to make friends in a number of places surrounding Munich and to continue her hobby of writing books that presented typical people in unusual situations and analyzing them against the background of the place in which they lived and its history. She had even won a Pulitzer Prize for her first book of this type in which she analyzed the leaders of the European Union at that time.

Laura closed her eyes and tried to sleep. She wanted to arrive at least half awake. The images and events in her head, however, would not go away. It seemed impossible that she was on the Munich-New York flight so soon. Just four days ago she had flown to New York from Munich for the funeral of Leroy, the editor of the Fort Sanford Times in Fort Sanford, New York, which lay partway between Rochester and New York City, a city, it seems that few had heard of but one that she had come to think of as her own when she had worked there for five years before getting her big chance with the New York Times. She had been devastated by Leroy’s funeral; he was only 60 and his heart attack had been so unexpected.

She had just returned yesterday and checked her e-mail to learn that Sarah, a reporter for the Fort Sanford Times, had been killed in a car accident returning home from Leroy’s funeral. So, now she was making the same sad trip again.

Images of Sarah kept running through Laura’s mind, denying her the sleep that she knew she needed. They had been friends, the very best kind of friends, or so Laura considered her relationship with Sarah until the day of her greatest happiness, the announcement of her assignment to the New York Times international bureau.

They had met when Laura became assistant editor of the Fort Sanford News. For several years after she got her journalism degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Laura had worked at one or another small-town paper in and around the Rochester, New York area as a columnist for international news. She really would have liked to have been sent abroad for a major newspaper. She could certainly have reported much better on international news from abroad, but the papers she worked for were too small to afford a staffer abroad. In fact, she felt lucky that they considered a local journalist for writing the weekly columns that analyzed international events, since they could just have easily purchased a syndicated columnist’s report.

By writing for several newspapers at the same time, she was able to eke out a living, and she had moved into a small house that she rented in one of the nondescript towns nearby. To her, it really did not matter in which town she lived. They all seemed to be the same: a little hilly — after all, geologically speaking, they were not all that far from the Atlantic Ocean, verdant in a northern way — many trees, but she missed the living ivy carpet that covered large portions of her native Alabama, very Yankee — the language sometimes seemed a little foreign to her in spite of having lived nearly seven years now in the North and the pace of life was certainly much brisker in spite of being a small town, and very small — a confining feeling compared to Rochester and Birmingham. Still, she was working in journalism, and not all her friends with journalism degrees had been able to find jobs in their field. In fact, she was even working in the area that had attracted her into journalism: international news. Still, she longed to be able to report the news from the sites in which it was occurring.

The town she had chosen to rent in, Division, had a bit of a strange name, but nothing else about the town was unusual. She chose to rent a house, not purchase one, because she was still hoping to move on, to find that position out there that would allow her to work abroad. For now, though, Division was a good choice. The editor of the Division Weekly Recorder was easy to work with, internationally oriented—an unusual trait for someone in that position, and particularly liked Laura. They became close colleagues, although they did not develop a personal relationship outside work, and when Laura needed a break from her Internet research, the public library being too small and poorly stocked to offer much in the way of research resources, she would stop into the Recorder to chat with the editor and often found herself helping out with paste-up, layout, darkroom work, copyediting, or wherever the editor was short-handed that day. Laura learned quickly, and through her daily visits soon understood nearly every element of newspaper production. At one point, to supplement her income, she even sold advertisements and then helped prepare the graphics for the ads that she had sold.

When the not-very-distant Fort Sanford Times lost its assistant editor, Laura’s boss heard about it, made a phone call recommending Laura, and suggested that Laura apply for the position. After all, her fill-in work, paid and volunteer, had prepared her to handle such a position, and, given the small distribution of the Recorder, the need for an assistant editor there was not likely to occur.

Moving to Fort Sanford would bring Laura into a cosmopolitan milieu, more in keeping with her interests. The Recorder editor saw it as a step up for Laura, but Laura herself was not so sure. What she really wanted was a job as an international news reporter, stationed in some foreign city, preferably Paris or Berlin since she had studied both French and German, but just about anywhere would be fine.

Still, when the Fort Sanford Times editor contacted her, she decided that an interview could not hurt and drove the 50 miles to Fort Sanford. She did not know the city well, mainly going there only when she had a visitor. There were more opportunities for entertaining a guest there than in Division.

Fort Sanford was not exceptionally large, either, but there were about 300,000 residents, several theaters, a philharmonic orchestra, and other accouterments that one found in cities but rarely in towns. Of course, there was some interesting architecture since Fort Sanford, like other early-settled towns in the Northeast, had originally been built as a fortress. Architecture of a military nature still remained, as did a few remnants of life-styles from three centuries earlier. Other than that, though, there was little in the city that attracted Laura, whose emotions more readily responded to pictures of truly historic places such as Karluv most (Karl’s Bridge) in Prague, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the old town square in Munich.

The interview went well, and the editor of the Fort Sanford Times soon after offered Laura the position of assistant editor. Laura accepted it, telling herself that perhaps being in a city, she would find the opportunity (or make it) to get into the kind of journalism that she really wanted to do.

Laura’s relationship with Leroy, the editor of the Fort Sanford Times, resembled the relationship she had had with the editor of the Recorder: professional but close. Laura enjoyed the work at the Fort Sanford Times more and more as time passed. Leroy, her boss, was a true mentor and friend. From him, she learned much about writing, editing, and the business of running a newspaper. She admired the way he could instantly rephrase an awkwardly constructed sentence and turn it into a quotable quote, and she appreciated the attention he showered on his staff. No opportunity for praise, encouragement, or celebration was overlooked. Weddings and births were announced with jubilation and flowers. A well-written article brought a personal note of congratulations, and criticism from the outside brought a note of support. The Times was clearly Leroy’s life and the people who worked there his family.

He had had a family of his own once. In fact, his wife, Liza, had been the international news reporter and assistant editor, as Laura was now. More than 15 years ago, Liza took her and Leroy’s only child, their ten-year-old son, Nicholas, on a trip to Rio de Janeiro to cover Carnaval. She looked forward to experiencing the intense fun and near madness of Carnaval together with Nicholas. They never returned.

No one ever found out what happened to them. Liza had sent Leroy a cable from the hotel, announcing their safe arrival, and one of the bellboys remembered seeing her and Nicholas leaving for Carnaval, dressed in traditional costumes and masks and laden with camera and recording equipment. When the two failed to check out as planned, the hotel administrator contacted Leroy, who was listed as the emergency contact on the hotel registration card.

Leroy flew immediately to Rio. By the time he arrived, the hotel management had already alerted the police, but they had no clues. No one, it seems, except the one bellboy, had spotted an American journalist and her small son in the frenzy of Carnaval.

Leroy stayed three weeks. Every day he walked the streets of Rio and combed the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, desperate to find anything that would explain the disappearance of the two people to whom he had long ago dedicated his life. And there was always that unfounded hope that one day he would find them walking toward him on the wide Copacabana sidewalk that edged the beach. But no, there were only the locals on their way to and from business and the tourists lying umbrella-to-umbrella under the hot summer sun.

Every day he checked with the police, but there was never any news. He also talked to the bellboy and to the hotel administrator, as well as to the storeowners near the hotel. He even asked Varig, Vasp, and other local airlines to check their manifests, in the event that Liza and Nicholas had left town by air for some unknown reason. He knew that the police had already done all that, but doing it again somehow comforted him.

In the end, however, he had to leave. As March drew to a close, it became clear that the trail — not that there ever had been much of one — was growing stale, and the paper needed him. So, Leroy returned to his other family and immersed himself in their lives.

Leroy never remarried, but he enjoyed the life of a family man. Every holiday one or another staff member would invite him to their home festivities. Leroy knew and loved all their children and was the Santa Claus of choice at Christmas parties. Not only did he dress up and play the role with great gusto—and being a bit portly, he fit the part—but he always brought each child of every employee a personal and appropriate gift from “Santa.” When possible, he helped out when a down payment was needed, went to high school football and baseball games to cheer on the children of his staff who played on the teams, and visited the hospital rooms of his staff and their family members when things went wrong.

The community also benefited from Leroy’s kindness and involvement. Annually, the paper supported a drive to raise funds for a number of causes. A number of uninsured children were able to receive health care, thanks to the newspaper’s efforts. Two new shelters were built for the homeless, and the Food Bank, a warehouse of food items for the indigent, was always kept well-stocked. If a good cause arose, Leroy donated his time and money—and the voice of the Times.

Thus, the Times enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the community, from which Laura immediately benefited. Within days of her arrival as assistant editor, she was a known name in town. Thanks to a couple of Times fund-raising campaigns that she led (who could turn down a request from Leroy?), her face became well-known, too.

When Leroy received awards for his service to the community or that of the newspaper, he would ask Laura to accompany him. Soon, by association, she was respected and welcomed everywhere by the citizens of Fort Sanford.

Following Leroy’s example, all the staffers at the Times welcomed Laura, all, that is, except Sarah. Funny, how her thoughts had wandered from Leroy to Sarah. The two relationships were, indeed, a study in opposites. Memories of Leroy brought feelings of warmth and a great sense of personal and professional loss. Leroy had been more than mentor and boss; he had been her professional father.

The memories of Sarah, however, were quite different and very mixed. A coffee break here and a lunch together there introduced her to Sarah’s personality, experiences, and, eventually, daughter, Susan. Sometimes Sarah would bring Susan to lunch, and the rapportĂ©e was lively and fun. Susan adored Laura, whom she soon took to calling “Aunt Laura,” and Laura loved her. Although Laura was too busy and goal-focused to give any thought to a family of her own, she thought that her warm relationship with Sarah and Susan must be the best of what having a family would be like.

Truth be told, she loved Sarah, too. Sarah had an earthy, fun-loving side that balanced her intellectualism and brought her a sense of playfulness that she would otherwise not have experienced. Sarah’s descriptions of the weekend outings she and Susan took to nearby amusement parks, zoos, natural museums, and other outdoor arenas in and around Fort Sanford inspired Laura to undertake her own physical regimen—but in her own way: membership at a health club where she forced herself to work out every day after work until she actually began to look forward to her exercise hour and felt at odds with herself if a work commitment caused her to miss it.

There were the moments of intense caring, an intimacy that only the very best of friends could have—and then a feeling of chilling cold when Laura moved on from the Fort Sanford Times to her current position. Laura thought that she knew Sarah better than she knew anyone else, but Sarah’s angry and cold reaction to Laura’s big break made her realize that perhaps she did not know Sarah at all and never really had. Yet, she continued to love her as a sister and a friend and hoped that some kindness of fate would put the relationship back on its previous track. The accident eliminated that possibility, and Laura struggled with a cascade of changing emotions.

Laura had not become immediate friends with Sarah when she came to the Fort Sanford Times. Actually, there was a short period of quite the opposite relationship. Laura never forgot the first time she encountered Sarah one-on-one. Without greeting her or calling her by name, Sara spit out, “We don’t need you here. Leroy has been working for a long time without an assistant, and we don’t want anyone between him and us.” Before the startled Laura could respond, Sarah marched off.

Laura heard from the other staffers that this was Sarah’s way. She could not seem to get social conventions quite right, and her colleagues had learned to overlook her occasional caustic remarks and sometimes deliberate meanness because she pulled her weight, would fill in or help with anything needed, and when in a good mood, was fun to be around. Laura was relieved to find out that when Sarah referred to the opinions of the entire staff, in actuality, the opinion was often only her own. So, Laura learned to translate the words, “No one wants you here,” along with a dozen similar comments, to the more accurate, “I don’t like the fact that Leroy hired an assistant.”

Laura’s initial relationship with Sarah, however, turned from bad to worst when she discovered that Sarah was not a very good writer. Sarah had good ideas, and she had a sense of story, that was true. However, she did not take the time to spell check or proofread her work, which made Laura’s job of copyediting more difficult, and she refused to follow the format that the others used: topic sentence, followed by important information, and ending with supporting details. Sarah insisted that this was not a proper way to write and that doing so impaired her writing style, which, she insisted, readers really liked. The format used by the newspaper was a reasonable one; it allowed Laura to shorten stories quickly and logically when they did not fit into the space allotted. As for reader preference, there was no way to know: no survey had ever been taken. Sarah’s comment about readers was along the same lines as all the other emphatic generalizations she made—without basis in fact.
Most of the other writers were quite good, and that made Laura wonder how Sarah had ended up in that position. The story, as it turned out, was pretty much what Laura had anticipated from the Fort Sanford side. Sarah had graduated from Fort Sanford High School in the same class as Leroy’s wife, Liza, and had been fortunate to obtain a stringer job for the New York Times, where she worked along with her ex-husband, now a nationally respected reporter on Wall Street. For some reason, after her divorce, Sarah had been fired from the New York Times, and with her small daughter but sans husband, she moved back to Fort Sanford, assuming that Liza would talk Leroy into giving her a job. Leroy did. At first, the only opening was for the gardening column, but that worked out fine because Sarah, it turned out, had a green thumb. Her own garden, the source of much pride to her, was the talk of the town. Later, when the business columnist left, she put on that hat, as well. Now, for as long as most of the new staffers could remember, she had been the odd combination of gardening and business reporter.

The rest of the story was more unusual, and some details were not available. Other staffers did not know, and Sarah herself was not sharing. What happened at the New York Times and how Sarah got there in the first place was unclear. Why her marriage ended was also unclear, although a comment that Sarah once made about mothers-in-law made Laura think that there was some conflict between Sarah and her mother-in-law that contributed to the demise of her marriage.

As it turned out, when Laura went to work for the New York Times, she did get a few more pieces of information. Several reporters who remembered Sarah said that she had a querulous personality that created friction with the editors and other reporters. In fact, Sarah was fairly well remembered and fairly strongly disliked, and Laura, when she first arrived from the Fort Sanford Times, was treated to quite a litany of Sarah’s sins. Concerned that such animosity could harm Sarah or her reputation in some way and thinking that perhaps Sarah could do something about it or at least should know about it, Laura wrote to her. The note she received in return was vintage Sarah. The letter was terse, and the tone was angry and distrustful
I would need to know who told you this set of lies in order to be able to respond. Send me the names and what they said, and I will check to see if you are telling me the truth about your conversations with these people.

Laura did not bother to reply. In fact, that was the last communication she ever had with Sarah. Still, she did not forget Sarah, and for years, in the middle of some other conversation, reading a book, or watching a television show, something would remind her of Sarah, and she would be caught in reverie for several minutes, almost always remembering only the good times: their leisure time together in Fort Sanford. The bad things associated with their early days at Fort Sanford Times were long ago forgiven and forgotten. The bad things that came later were too painful for reflection.

With Leroy’s help, Laura was able to get Sarah to make some small changes to her writing, enough to make her copyediting job much easier, and after that the relationship began to improve. The growing personal friendship helped their professional relationship, and, in time, Sarah’s sense of playfulness sometimes crept in at the Fort Sanford Times when they were working together on an article. When the article was finished—usually not until there had been at least a brief exchange of slightly acrimonious words—and both Sarah and Laura were satisfied with it, Sarah would lean over in a moment of intimacy and kiss Laura on the nose. Sarah never said thank-you for the help with her writing, and, if she ever expressed anything publicly, it was resentment of Laura’s rewriting of her work and even, upon more than one occasion, outright derision of Laura’s writing skills. Laura overlooked these moments, though. Others knew Sarah and interpreted Sarah’s comments as a manifestation of her “difficult personality.” If Laura were to experience any anger over this treatment, that emotion was quickly replaced with a softer one, prompted by the memory of the kiss on the nose and the gentler relationship they had outside the office.

Laura’s friendship with Leroy grew concurrently. Laura had never worked for – or even known — someone like Leroy. He had no ego that needed fueling. He simply wanted the paper to go out on time, be well written, and contain useful news. And he wanted the employees to be happy. When they received good news, he rejoiced; when they received bad news, he empathized — and helped. Laura understood from others that she was very much like Liza. That probably explained the comfort level that she felt with Leroy and he with her. For many years, though, he never told her about Liza. When he did, Laura could tell that he was still grieving.

The day he told her was the day that she was offered the position at the New York Times. It was a position that Laura had prepared for, seemingly forever, through her work in reporting the international news for the Fort Sanford Times. It was a position that she had been anticipating subconsciously from the very beginning. When she had moved to Fort Sanford, she had not rented an apartment or bought a house; rather, she had moved into a trailer and remained there for the 15 years she worked at the Fort Sanford Times. A gypsy at heart, she did not feel the need for a traditional home and all its trappings.

The day Leroy told her about Liza, Laura finally understood the depth of his loss and how she had filled part of the void for him. Now, he was losing another friend — to a different kind of disappearance. While Laura assured him that she would return frequently, they both knew that this would be difficult. After all, she had no blood family in Fort Sanford; she had no property there; and she had no professional reasons to report on anything from there.

Five years passed, and while the memories of Fort Sanford remained dear, they did dim. From time to time, Laura considered writing to Leroy, or calling him to see how he was doing, but day eroded into day with an ever increasing load of reporting responsibilities, and she just did not have the time. So, she did what everyone else does: she subordinated her personal life to her professional one, assuming that she could always see Leroy the next chance she had to go to Fort Sanford.

Then, the unexpected happened. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her analytic book on European Union leaders. The Fort Sanford Times staff went wild, and they invited her back to a huge party. The fifteen years she had spent reporting for the Fort Sanford Times were enough that the townspeople felt that she was still a member of the town. Nearly the whole town turned out — except for Sarah. Laura was not surprised. When one or another staff member would receive a local or regional writing award, Sarah would always criticize that person’s writing and the sagacity of the awards committee. The greatest hurt, though, and the one that caused the long-lasting breach in Laura’s friendship with Sarah, was Sarah’s response to Laura being offered the position at the New York Times: she wrote Laura a note, listing all the reasons why she thought that Laura did not deserve the job—and many of those reasons she shared publicly with anyone who would listen. Laura could have forgiven her for that. After all, she had become used to these kinds of quirky, and seemingly mean, deeds from Sarah. What Laura found difficult to deal with was the fact that Sarah simply stopped speaking to her and avoided her in every way possible. So, the friendship ended in silence the day that Laura left on her new assignment.

Leroy had been helpful to Laura at this painful juncture. Laura could not understand Sarah’s rejection of her; she had done nothing to deserve derision or animosity. Leroy explained it very simply: “Sarah does not understand that a friend’s good fortune is a blessing.”

Be it envy, jealousy, or something else, Sarah simply was not capable of being happy for Laura and interpreted Laura’s gain as her own loss. Remembering Leroy’s words was helpful, and Laura did not comment on Sarah’s absence at the town party for her Pulitzer award. She, in fact, began to understand it — almost.

Another three years passed. After her big party, Laura had planned, promised, and expected to return to Fort Sanford, but once again work took priority and time stole past without notice. Unfortunately, she put off her return too long. Three years to the day after leaving Fort Sanford following the Pulitzer Prize party, she received an email note from one of the staff at the Fort Sanford Times, informing her that Leroy had died unexpectedly of a heart attack.

At first, she just looked at the computer screen not comprehending. Leroy had not been sick. She had planned to visit; she still wanted to visit. How could he be gone? Her professional mentor was no longer. Her closest friend for fifteen years was no longer. When she had said good-bye the last time she was in Fort Sanford, she had not dreamt that she was saying good-bye forever and not just “until we meet again.”

Laura flew back to Fort Sanford for the funeral. Sarah was at the funeral, too. Laura was relieved to see her — hopeful and fearful at the same time. At last, perhaps they could mend the breach between them. Ironically, once again, Leroy was bringing them together. However, when Laura walked up to Sarah after the funeral, Sarah tossed her head and strode away without a word. Susan was not at the funeral, and Laura wanted to ask Sarah where she was, but, of course, that was not possible. Some of the townspeople told her that Susan could not get off work from her job as a waitress at one of the local cafes, but when Laura went looking for her, she could not find her. So, she returned to Munich somewhat despondent for the first two days.

Then, just as she began to look forward, rather than backward, she received the email that Sarah had died in a car accident on the way home from Leroy’s funeral. Of course, she immediately booked return tickets to Sarah’s funeral. Even though the long period of no communication between them, during which Sarah forbade Susan from communicating with Laura, continued to hurt, Laura still loved both Sarah and Susan and longed to say good-bye to the one and hello to other.

After Sarah had ceased communicating with her, Laura could not stop thinking about her and Susan. A blonde on the street, a phrase at a staff meeting, a picture in the newspaper — all kinds of small details would set her mind drifting to the days when she had shared and given love that she thought was sacred, eternal, indestructible. To accomplish any work at all, she would have to tell herself each morning, "Don't think about Sarah today." Whenever the image of Sarah popped into her mind, she would say "No!" Sometimes, without realizing it, she would say it aloud, and then people would stare at her, causing her some embarrassment. Still, she knew that this was the advice that psychologists gave to people who were obsessed with unhelpful thoughts, and Sarah had certainly become an unhelpful obsession. It took nearly two years for Laura to stop thinking about Sarah all the time, and she never stopped completely. Nor did she stop loving her. She had wondered if Sarah would ever be able to see past her own scars to notice how often she scarred others, and she had dreamed of a spring thaw that would melt Sarah's heart and bring them back together. Clearly, now that dream would not come true. Sarah had died during a winter of discontent, and spring for her would have to await another lifetime. Laura hoped that the next life would be easier for her. She envisioned Sarah dancing through a field of wildflowers, her blonde hair flowing behind her, cushioned by a gentle breeze, and she smiled—then realized that people were watching. Well, better a smile than a tear! At least, that's the way she wanted to imagine people at her own funeral—remembering the good times. Still smiling, she finally fell asleep.


The funeral was simple. Most of the staff at the Fort Sanford Times came, still red-eyed from Leroy’s funeral. None had been very close to Sarah, but still they came. Leroy would have expected it.

At the end of the funeral service, a tall, tanned, beautiful blonde stood next to the coffin for a very long time. Laura walked up beside her and saw that it was Susan. She put her arm around her, and the two stood together for an even longer time, saying a silent goodbye to Sarah, each in her own way.

After the interment, Laura accompanied Susan home. The house had not changed from the days when Laura used to visit Sarah and Susan, but the joy she had felt there was now absent.

“I know many people found Mother to be a difficult person,” said Susan, “but I loved her.”

“I did, too,” replied Laura softly, then turned to more pragmatic matters, “Susan, what are you going to do now?”

“Well, I have nothing holding me to Fort Sanford now, except for my job at the cafĂ©, and that is no great shakes, but, on the other hand, I don’t have any reason for going anywhere else or doing anything else.”

“So, you like what you do?” Laura queried.

“I don’t hate it,” said Susan, “but it is certainly not what I would hope to be doing ten years from now.”

“So, what is your dream?” Laura asked.

“My dream? Well, I am a little embarrassed to say. You might laugh, or you might not believe me.”

“Try me!”

“I want to be an international journalist like you, Aunt Laura.”

Laura was stunned. How long had Susan been afraid to let Sarah know that she would like to follow in Laura’s footsteps? How angry would Sarah have been had she known? Sarah liked having Susan near her, and international journalism would have taken her away. Had Susan been able to realize her dream, would Sarah not have thought that her own daughter’s good fortune was a blessing? “Just as likely not,” thought Laura.


During the next four years, Laura took on responsibility for Susan although Susan was fully grown and certainly capable of self-care. Laura guided Susan into selecting a college (she decided on Fordham University), paid her tuition, and advised her in her course selections. Susan majored in journalism, worked on the school newspaper staff, and with Laura’s encouragement and help, graduated summa cum laude.

Laura flew back to New York City — this time from Sao Paolo (she wondered what Leroy would have thought, if he were alive, if he knew she was covering international news from Brazil) — to attend Susan’s graduation. She could not have been more proud had Susan been her natural daughter. She had already lined up an entry-level position for Susan with the New York Times. This girl was going to start out her professional career partway up the ladder of success, and, if Laura had anything to do or say about it, the career would quickly blossom and flourish. She thought about the kinds of things Susan could cover, and the people to whom she could introduce her. She arrived at the graduation with a heart full of pride and a head full of plans.

Both the pride and the plans grew, as she watched Susan, who now looked startlingly like Sarah at the time that Laura had first met her, walk across the stage to be handed her diploma. Finally, she understood, at least a little, Sarah’s emotions in wanting to guide, advise, and direct Susan. The directing part was, of course, in Laura’s value system, not right, not fair. At the same time, there was the desire to make everything perfect for Susan according to her own plan.

Laura had planned to take Susan to an upscale restaurant after graduation to celebrate. They so rarely saw each other that this would be a chance for some intimate girl-and-family talk. They had both looked forward to this day for four years. So, Laura was quite surprised when Susan approached her hand-in-hand with a handsome, sharply dressed, middle-aged gentleman.

“Aunt Laura, I want you to meet Henri Jancquard.” Jancquard! One of the most eligible bachelors in the world! Laura looked closer and recognized the face from many pictures she had seen of this multimillionaire from Switzerland.

“How is it that you know my Susan?” she asked Pierre.

He smiled. “She interviewed me for an article for the school paper, and I interviewed her back. I asked her out that evening, and we have been dating since.”

“Well, not just dating,” Susan explained. “Aunt Laura, we are engaged!”

“Engaged? Well, congratulations! So, Henri, are you prepared to follow this newly minted international journalist around the world?”

Henri looked at Susan with a confused expression, then turned to Laura, “I have enough money that Susan does not need to work. She will travel with me around the world, as my wife, entertaining and being entertained.”

Laura began to feel information overload and suggested that all three go to the restaurant and talk about all of their futures. After three hours of conversation and a meal that would have satiated the hunger of the biggest wrangler, Laura had to leave to catch her flight back. She considered postponing her return trip, given the momentous news she had just received but thought better of it. There was really nothing to be gained by lingering in New York City.

“Thank you for coming, Aunt Laura,” Susan said, as they parted outside the restaurant.

“I would not have missed it for the world,” Laura replied.

“I hope you are not disappointed that I have decided to follow Henri and not continue with my career as an international reporter.” Susan’s tentativeness and look of guilt surprised Laura. “I will pay you back every penny you spent on my education. I promise.”

“You will not,” Laura replied. “I paid for your education because I loved your mother, and I love you. I am very happy for you, even though I will miss having you for a colleague. You will now be in a position to help others. So, don’t pay me back. Pass it on to as many others as you can.”

“Aunt Laura,” Susan smiled. “I love you.”

“Always remember: a friend’s good fortune is a blessing,” responded Laura, and with that, she leaned over and kissed Susan on the nose, as she knew Sarah would have.

Until now, here at Mahlou Musings, I have shared only my published works and the published works of friends. I thought that perhaps some folks might find some of my work in progress interesting, and that work will certainly benefit from reader critique. So, here is the first entry, a short story I wrote some time ago that is awaiting both redaction and companions to form a volume a short stories.

About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.