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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10 thoughts on “The Unlikely Truth

  1. I love that you say that children's stories need the same epic struggle. I have never thought about it, though, of course, it makes total sense. My husband and I are huge fans of Joseph Campbell, and have watched The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers over and over. So powerful and resonant, and in a daily life kind of way. I love serendipity in life, and all those theories about chaos and order. The fact the Bill Moyers was in St. Paul, in a pink shirt, easy to spot and nearby, makes perfect sense in a crazy, appropriate way. So glad you wrote to him. So perfect as we all walk through our own hero's journey.

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  2. Lovely. What a gift.
    My new mantra will include, “unexpressed gratitude circles a person,” for i have so much to be thankful for in my life. Your friendship, wise counsel and sweet family have blessed me more than I can ever say in mere words. And, I hope and believe to see many more of your wonderful works in all our lives.

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  3. I am constantly amazed by all the “right” people I encounter by accident. I like to imagine telling this story to Joseph Campbell. He would nod his head, smile and reply, “There are no accidents, Karen.”

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  4. Campbell said, “Follow you bliss,” and writing is surely mine, although it's taken years to realize that. I keep going with fingers crossed and the strong winds of wonderful friends like you reminding me.

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  5. What a wonderful story, Karen. In Judaism, there is a concept called “bashert,” meaning that events like you have described above, can only be predestined because the improbable odds can't explain it. I believe you were destined to be a great author and your experiences are part of that plan.

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  6. Todd, I still remember your bright face in the front row of my freshman English class. Over 3 decades later, I continue to learn from you. I am blessed to have you in my life. What a remarkable spirit you are.

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