Monday, October 12, 2015

The Unlikely Truth

Whenever I was ready to give up on something, my mother always said, "Where there's a will, there's a way." I believed her.

It took years to understand she didn't mean it would happen instantly. I've spent a lifetime discovering how much I had to learn, how often I had to fail, and how much I had to depend on the wisdom of others. Instantly? I wish.

When my picture book Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale was published, I felt obliged to thank three significant people: Florence Parry Heide, Jane Yolen, and Bill Moyers. Florence, an award-winning author, showed me the way early on and insisted I keep my chin up despite rejection. We'd once been neighbors, and she was an easy phone call away.

Jane, another celebrated children's author, took years. Maggie loved owls, so Owl Moon was among her first favorite books. Countless readings showed me the strength of practiced simplicity in a text. I finally met her in March. A happenstance click of a computer key led to a devoted friendship.

I knew all along that Bill Moyers was an impossible reach. When I first started writing picture books, I saw his PBS interview with mythology scholar Joseph Campbell. Listening to them showed me the irresistible pull of a hero on a perilous journey. I realized children's stories required the same epic struggle.

That became the storyline in Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale.

Still, thanking Bill Moyers was highly unlikely. Celebrities at his station in life are understandably distanced from the little people. Even if I found a contact address on the internet, my note would likely go unnoticed among thousands. I hoped for someone with a public television link. No one ever appeared.

But unexpressed gratitude circles a person, despite the passing time.

Then on Maggie's high school graduation day, I turned to watch her enter beneath the arch. There he was. Several rows behind me. In a pink shirt.

Bill Moyers.

His granddaughter had been Maggie's classmate the whole time, but I never connected the dots on that last name. During the reception, I tactfully avoided approaching him, knowing a potentially embarrassing moment would not be correct. But the aligned stars glimmered too brightly for me to ignore.

We could have chosen other seats on that expansive lawn, and I would have missed him entirely. We didn't. I asked Cliff what he thought the odds were on this intersection, and he said it was a bet no one would ever take.

It wasn't that Bill Moyers needed to know about my appreciation. He had shelves of awards. But I felt duty-bound to tell him my writing turned a corner because of his influential work. Given a direct path to his door, I sent a note with the book. He answered with a handwritten note in the gracious way you would expect. It turned out he truly did need to know about my book. My mother would have said, "Honey, you're walking in mighty tall cotton now."

That's the unlikely truth about gratitude. Sometimes it generates a fate of its own, one far greater than our disbelief. Mine took matters into its hands, flying a famous man all the way to Randolph Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota, on a day in June.

And making sure he'd wear a color I'd see.

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