Saturday, June 3, 2017

Why it's hard to leave

It's been the best of times, and it's been the worst of times. I have abandoned my readers for close to nine months.  Many of you have asked me to get back to my writing, and I appreciate that.

When I began working for Professor Chomsky almost 24 years ago, I was 39 years old, and he was 65. Retirement seemed to be on his radar then, but I quickly realized that even if he stopped officially teaching his MIT class, he would always teach and lecture. He retired from MIT (meaning he wouldn't be teaching an ongoing class) about ten years ago, but as I predicted, to this day he continues to work as tirelessly as ever.

So it's ironic that I, at 63 years old - only two years younger than the white haired guy was when I started assisting him in 1994 - will walk out of the office for good later this summer. I am retiring.  Or in the words of Morris Halle when I told him this a few weeks ago, "You're quitting?" And Noam - and Morris - will still be there.

It's hard to leave, especially as I look back at the past week, which has been a microcosm of my life in our suite over all of these years.  Sylvain Bromberger, one of our 90-plus-yr-old professors, brought me a block of real Parisian butter he carried back from France in his suitcase.  I had a good talk with an ex-student, now a visiting professor. I grabbed a quick lunch with Andrea Moro, the amazing linguist and neuroscientist from Pavia who welcomed Laura and me to Italy to help with logistics when Noam had a speaking tour there. There was a trip to Google with another ex-student, my friend Ann Farmer, as the delightful, enthusiastic Hasan lead Noam in a Q&A, addressing the current political climate, Noam's early activism, and corporate responsibility.  It was a comfort to hear Morris Halle, the man who interviewed me for this position, now approaching his mid 90's, cackling in the background at a few of Noam's comments. And most recently, I had an unexpected interview with Christopher Lydon, asking me how I've viewed my boss and his work over the past almost two dozen years.

I've learned from a lot of you out there - activists of all types - that learning about Noam Chomsky as not a super-hero, but as a person, helps energize you to do your own work. Having said that, there are many instances that I recall when I would say that Noam is indeed a super hero.

I hope to develop a book based on my blog posts about my experiences and insights working as Professor Chomsky's gate keeper.  Thanks to all of you who have provided me with useful feedback and encouragement, even expressing the joy and personal nourishment you have gained as my readers.

Listen to this podcast, for the Open Source radio show, to hear Chris Lydon and Noam Chomsky in conversation as Lydon questions him on his views of current world affairs.  You will hear Lydon interview me about 3/4 of the way through about how I see Noam Chomsky as a person, after spending so much time at his side.

And I just found this - more of my personal interview with Lydon on what Lydon calls "The Soul of Noam Chomsky." I probably would not have approved that title, had they asked me...

More of my interview about Noam

I'll be back...

Friday, January 20, 2017

Forward March

I’m trying to remain calm.

Laura and I are marching in Boston tomorrow with my son’s partner Lisa and her young daughter, Annika. In fact, almost every woman I know will march tomorrow, as will millions of other women and men in the US and around the world.  What began as a march for women’s reproductive rights has become a march for human rights, and racial, economic, and reproductive justice. As one announcement said so well, “Together, we will send a message to our leaders and the world that the United States of America stands for values of human decency, equal rights and freedom from discrimination.”

Two days ago, when Noam stopped by our office, I told him about my fear of terrorist attacks on any number of the assemblies on Saturday.  He said that was unlikely, but “There will be provocateurs. I just hope they (those of us protesting) don’t fall for it. That’s what Trump wants.”

Provocateur:  An [undercover] agent who incites suspected persons to partake in or commit criminal acts. 

So be prepared, my fellow marchers.  Don’t fall for bait set by any provocateurs. Don’t let them incite you into some incriminating action.

Near noon today, as the reality that Trump is to be inaugurated (and in fact, as I prepare to post this, he is now our President), I decided to stave off a panic attack - I’m not prone to them, but recent political events have shaken me - by doing something mindless -- cleaning up and deleting some old personal emails.

I found a few from last November which I had somehow overlooked. Filmmaker Michel Gondry’s note, below, offered a welcome respite from my dark mood. Gondry's many visits over a few years while interviewing Noam for his animated film, “Is the Man Who is Tall Happy” gave us much pleasure. Gondry is all creativity, personality, and playfulness, with a small bit of self-deprecating humor. Through his film-making talent, he brought joy and fun to the sometimes heavy atmosphere of our office. Two years after the release of that film, following the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, I wrote Michel to check on him. In the course of our conversation, I asked him to write about how it was for him to visit us through the years while creating the film. One of the emails I found from November was from Michel, describing his feelings of anticipation as he prepared to meet Noam for the first time. (I took the liberty of correcting a few minor typos.) He calls me by my full name - Beverly.  My mother would approve.

E-mail from Michel Gondry to me:

I started to write about my experience with noam.
This is just the beginning. It should be 3 times this length
let me know what you think

“April 30 2010 - I was walking towards a giant ball of creased tinfoil [MIT’s Stata Center], wondering how the structured brain (not structuralist) of the most intelligent man of the planet could function in this architectural mess. The foil was frank Gehry and the brain was noam chomsky. Michèle Oshima, director of Student & Artist-in-Residence in MiT, was holding my hand but it was my knees that were shaking. The tinfoil ball looks more friendly from the inside. We swiftly reached the 8th floor. Beverly welcomed us warmly.

Here I have to make a pause to give you the tour of the whole Chomsky operation. Expectations can be misleading. There is Noam, Beverly and Roxy, Beverly's dog. That's it. In addition, few times a day, an enigmatic old man comes out of an invisible office, speaks two words to Noam as if he was asking to go for a beer, then disappears again. (Gondry is referring here to our friend, Noam’s long-time colleague and suite mate, 93-year-old Prof. Morris Halle – my other boss.)

Years after I can make fun of the situation but at the time my knees had gone from shaking to wobbling. Beverly noticed them and nicely said "don't worry, he is very nice. He will be here in a few minutes." Then Noam came out of his office. He walked towards me. Maybe I was walking towards [him], I'm not sure anymore. He looked big and small at once. Not small when he was far and big when he was close but big and small at the same time. I don't know why, but that is the closest image i can find to illustrate my feeling at the time: it's as if the Rushmore mount was moving towards me. This sensation dissipated when we shaked hands.”

As MIT Professor Bob Berwick said to me today as he left my office following a discussion of the need for and benefits of humor as President Trump takes office, “Well, I suppose it’s better to die laughing.”

I wish us all safety, sanity, well-being, and positive forward movement on all vital issues this year. May this be the year that people go out into the streets, many for the first time, and let the powers-that-be know that we are mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. Once more, as has increasingly been the case during my 23 years with Prof. Chomsky, I have a mounting respect for him, and for other activists in a multitude of arenas who have spent much of their lives speaking out. May they find themselves with a lot more company and support from now on. And may we all somehow come together over these next four years.  It would be a welcome outcome of this election.

During Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign, Noam worried that, after the campaign, if Sanders happened not to win, the movement would fizzle out. “We need to continue trying to bring about the changes that we think are important. Most importantly, we need to remain organized after the election[s], and continue pushing for these ideas,” said Noam. Hear, hear.

Tomorrow, there will be no fizzling out.

Below is a tiny, representative sampling of announcements that have been posted re the women’s marches.

From Facebook:

BOSTON, MA — If a planned "Boston Women's March" on the Common sees even a fraction of its anticipated attendance, it stands to be the city's largest protest yet in the wake of President-elect Donald Trump.

The Boston rally is planned in parallel with a larger women's march already scheduled to hit the streets of Washington, D.C., the day following Trump's inauguration. Several thousand Bay Staters will be traveling to that national event, according to a Massachusetts-specific event page convening women and supporters who will be traveling to Washington, D.C., for the main national march.

Of those staying behind but still hoping to take a stand, some 36,000 have indicated on Facebook they are going to attend the Boston sister rally, while another 41,000 have marked "interested" as of Jan. 19.

Here's how one organizer describes the planned march in Boston:

Mission: On January 21, 2017, we will unite in Boston on Boston Common to march in solidarity with communities most affected by the hate, intolerance and acts of violence being perpetrated throughout the nation -- among many are communities of women, immigrants, people of color, and people who identify as LGBTQIA and people with disabilities. ALL ARE WELCOME. This is a march for all of us. 

Most human rights groups are sending out their own announcements, like this one from International Labor Rights Forum, and the one below from HRW.

At ILRF we are very excited about the Women’s March on Washington this weekend. Please join me in the streets tomorrow, whether you are in Washington or at one of the over 600 sister marches! 

Women's Rights are Human Rights

In just a few hours, Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States.
As women's basic freedoms are threatened in the US and around the world, we are joining hands with activists to send a loud and clear message to all those in power: women's rights are human rights.

Tomorrow, Human Rights Watch will join thousands of diverse voices from across the country at the Women's March on Washington. Join us as we march for our equality, our health, our inclusion, our families,our dignity, and our future.

This simple email from a colleague in Germany says a lot:

“We learn that Millions of Americans will not stay calm, and shall object to what is coming into the White House.”

You said it, Gerhard.

Let’s not let Saturday’s actions fizzle.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Real Shakeup

Last night I railed at my television set.  This morning I cried. Now I'm trying to gather myself and look at what's next.  Laura reminds me that there are checks and balances, and she will go to her office today and try to calm her clients, who have been worried and anxious for months over the campaign, the debates, and a possible Trump presidency, now a shocking and grim reality. My friend Deb reminds me that we can't control this and we can only look forward. My friend Cindy assures me that we do not live in a dictatorship. My son calms my fears of losing a good part of my 401K in a market crash. My thoughts fly all over the place, as I wonder how the voices of Independents will ever be heard without millions of dollars to back them. How can they rise up within this system?

I know a shakeup was needed in our government. Maybe the democrats shot themselves in the foot by nominating Hillary,  I don't know.  Bernie Sanders would have been a much better choice. I could have trusted Bernie.

There are a lot of fears about a Trump presidency.  Noam has expressed his, many of which I share. Will Trump eliminate environmental regulations - what about fossil fuels? Will he eliminate Obama's health care plan and leave many millions without insurance?  What about the supreme court appointments - will his choices set the country back countless years? What will happen to immigrants, legal and illegal? What about Trump's relationship with Russia, and foreign policy in general? Can we trust this man with nuclear arms?  The questions are endless.

My older brother, Ron, one of the very few Trump supporters I am close with, called me this morning, knowing how horrified I have been by the prospect of a Trump presidency. He suggests that Trump was posturing during the campaign. Tears ran down my face as he proclaimed, "I told you he would get in!  People are sick and tired of the status quo!"  

I found some voice through my tears and said,"Yes, but this is not the man to change it. Ron, you love nature - do you know that Republicans for the most part don't believe there is a climate issue?"

This past summer, for the first time in 62 years, my brother stopped talking to me for more than a month when I told him he needed to stop watching Fox News. This morning he said something I do agree with.  "Family is most important, Bev.  You have to work together with the people in your life. We will help each other get through this. You watch, it won't be as bad as you think."

"Is that really the best we can hope for?" I ask. "That it won't be as bad as we think? This is a man who cheated in business, and stiffed employees." 

He says, "You're worrying too much about Trump. Look at his kids.  They're good, solid people.  You will see Trump's softer side, and he will do his best. We needed this change, and we will hold him responsible to bring about the right changes."

"Or what?" I ask him. "How will we stop Trump if he is the monster many of us fear he is, judging by the bigotry, bullying, and disrespect he shows women, employees, and human beings in general? What about his multiple bankruptcies, his failure to pay taxes?"

As much as I want to find comfort in my big brother's words, I don't have a lot of faith.

I hope I'm wrong, for the sake of the kids in my life, like Annika and Declan, Lily, Wes, Violet, and soon-to-be-born Owen.  And for the rest of us.

The most awesome Van Jones sums it up for me, below. Click the link and scroll down a bit to see the video.

New addition - Prof Chomsky predicted this 6 years ago.  Good article:

Monday, October 31, 2016

Fighting Crime!

Since it's Halloween, I thought I would post one of my favorite photos - this one is of my two favorite crime fighters.  Roxy, on the left, is dressed as Wonder Woman.

That's Noam on the right, dressed as himself.  They both signed the photo in the upper left-hand corner.  Thanks to Katharine W. for the idea, and the photo.  And thanks to Noam for being a good sport.

Happy Halloween, and stay tuned for my next about a week.

xo Bev

Thursday, October 20, 2016


On a recent evening, Roxy and I headed toward the elevator to travel down to the basement parking garage so I could go home and shake off my day.  I have to admit that when I’m in a cranky mood, my pet peeves erupt, and this was one of those days. Even knowing that sugar is not my friend, I had eaten, in all, three leftover cookies in the department’s front lounge throughout the day. I approached the elevator thinking about the many times people join me there, wearing ear buds and scrolling madly on their phones, completely tuned out to fellow travelers in this tiny space.  To be fair, they may also be overworked employees, or overwhelmed students looking forward to a break, a walk outside, some time away from MIT, from people.
Nonetheless, I like to engage them – I prefer not to think I’m provoking - by striking up a conversation.  I get some perverse satisfaction from the look on their faces as they force a smile, or more of a grimace (this lady has the nerve to interrupt my quiet time), and with all but an audible sigh unplug their ears to the sound of my voice saying something like, “What’s going to happen to all of us when we can’t communicate without technology?” Sometimes their eyes fly to the wall panel to see how close they are to their exit floor, but sometimes – and this gives me a little hope for the future of humanity – they smile and say, “I don’t know,” or even, “That’s a good question.”
Roxy often ambles over and sniffs the ankles of fellow passengers, I assume to check out whether they have a dog or cat at home. They usually stoop down to pet her, and getting a closer look, many ask how old she is.  I try not to hear that as, “How the heck old is that dog, anyway?” She was born with the large sad eyes of an old man – the kind of eyes that, in my mind, beg, “Please buy a sectional sofa from me.  I haven’t made one sale all week!” And her grayish muzzle has stood out against her curly brown hair since she was two. Roxy’s warmth toward people helps me in my crusade toward creating more personal interactions between strangers.
I was prepared for more of the same, but was pleasantly surprised when the door opened, revealing an empty elevator. I got in singing, trying to purge the sugar high from my body. My pleasure turned quickly to irritation, though, when the elevator stopped only one floor below.
A tall and handsome youngish man got in. Just in case he had heard me through the door, I laughingly confessed to him, “I was singing a song before the door opened.”  He smiled down at Roxy, who was sniffing his shoes. Without giving it much thought, I asked him, “What kind of world do you think it would be if we could keep singing on an elevator even after a stranger got in?”  
He nodded, and said “Right.” Was he just humoring me, I wondered? 
So I said to him, “Ok, so…sing something for me.” Sugar has been known to blur my social filter.
The man cleared his throat. “Oh, my, well…” And then he sang with a surprisingly sturdy baritone voice, “…uhm: Do-na, no-bis, pa-a-cem pacem” and I joined him in adequate mezzo-soprano harmony, “Do naaa, no-bis, paaa-cem. Do – na – no-o-bis pacem. Do naaa, no-o-bis, pa-a-a-a-cem.” The elevator landed on the first floor and dinged in perfect counterpoint as we sang the last note. 
The stranger glanced my way and stepped out. I called out to the man of few words with a  pleasing voice, “Well, I feel better!” and he nodded and waved.
The elevator opened to the basement, and Roxy and I got out. I thought about the many special weekends Laura and I have spent with one particular group of friends, Jan, Shelley, and Susan, singing more than a few rounds of Dona Nobis Pacem while hiking through the woods, building a fire, or making breakfast together, and I felt grateful for old friends, and grateful for willing strangers singing about peace in an elevator at the end of a long day.
The double set of stairs leading down to the parking garage made a dent in my sugar high, but I rode the wave of another high as I sang all the way to my car.
I chose the link below despite its spooky nature.  After all, this is the month of Halloween.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Grace Under Fire

One of the ways I clear my mind is by reading biographies and autobiographies. I follow up my readings by watching movies, YouTube videos, and articles about the individual, supplementing further with documentaries, concerts, and PBS specials. Over the years I found out everything I wanted to know about Janis Joplin, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Collins, James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Steve Martin, Bob Dylan, Diane Keaton, Jerry Seinfeld, Carol Burnett, and countless other musicians, comedians, and actors.
Jane Fonda was a notorious protester of the Vietnam War, and her political style angered Vietnam veterans, who were hearing from many activists that their fighting in Vietnam was senseless at a time when they needed desperately to find some meaning in their experiences. During a tour of North Vietnam, Jane was photographed sitting on an NVA (North Vietnamese Army) anti-aircraft gun, which I don’t think was intentional.  Fonda, referred to from then on as “Hanoi Jane,” expressed regret for having that picture taken, and for the pain that her action caused many American veterans, but it was hard for her to shake the negative impact that her political style had on her public image. I suppose that’s one reason people write biographies – to be understood, especially when they believe they have been mis-understood.
I had personally been touched by that war, as my uncle Mike returned home with PTSD in his mid twenties, followed by a stroke around the age of 30. In an appeal process I undertook a few years after Mike was denied Agent Orange benefits, I proved that Mike had indeed been exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam, which allowed him to receive additional governmental compensation. For the remainder of his life, Mike spoke only one word at a time, and walked with a cane. His politics were very different than mine, but he lived his life as a gentle man and a proud veteran, passing away at the age of 71.
I finished Fonda’s autobiography, My Life So Far, on a Sunday in 2006, and had it fresh in my mind when Noam arrived at work the next Tuesday.  I wanted to know what he felt about her.  Part of me was hoping that he would insist that the media had beefed up this and other stories about Fonda to distract from the real issue - the war.
I followed Noam into his office and waited for him to put down his briefcases. “Noam,” I said, trying to search for the right words, finally just getting my thought out, “I read Jane Fonda’s autobiography, and I was wondering about her unpopularity, which I thought might be based on false assumptions. Wasn’t she well-intended, if not misguided?”
I was tickled, but not surprised when Noam turned toward the doorway where I was standing, and said, “I’ll tell you about my experience with Jane Fonda.”   
There have been literally hundreds of times when I wanted to point a magical pause button at Noam and stop time for long enough to pull out a microphone, grab a bag of very lightly salted (high blood pressure) popcorn, prop my feet up on a chair, press the button, and give him the go ahead wave.
But having neither a pause button nor popcorn, I perked up my ears and prayed to the Gods of Good Memory that I would be worthy of what I was about to receive.  I wanted to take in and remember every word.
He told me that during the Vietnam War Jane invited him to a rally she was organizing in New York City.  Although Noam was heavily involved in Vietnam War protests, he initially refused, since he planned to be out of town until the night before, but Fonda managed to talk him into flying into New York on his way home.  
He said that she was impatient with the paparazzi at the airport.  I imagined she was already burned out by the bad press she had received, and by strong criticism from the public.
Later, I asked him to fill in the blanks from his story – and this time I took notes.
He said it was a fundraiser for the antiwar movement.  She insisted that he fly out first-class. “I flew back on my own, economy -- I was more spry in those days.” It was held in some extremely elegant ballroom, filled with people he was told were very famous.  “I actually recognized one face: an actor in some children's show that we watched with the kids, maybe ‘I Dream of Jeannie,’ or something like that.  Comical to see the face there in the crowd.”  There was a panel, and each of them talked for about ten minutes while the audience waited for the main show.  Then the real affair started, he said. “People standing up and announcing: ‘I'm Phil Ochs’ [or whomever], huge applause.  And so on.  And yes, I couldn't stand it so left in the middle without telling anyone.  I suppose they thought I was going to the men's room.”
Noam never was one for what he perceives as self-promotion. In the end, he never really answered my question about Jane, and I decided to put it all on hold for a while.  Plus, my obsession with Jane was ebbing, and I was moving onto another biography.
But lately the question started nagging at me again, when I finished watching two seasons of a Netflix show called Grace and Frankie, starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, about two women in their mid seventies whose law partner husbands fell in love with one another and summarily dumped them.  Now Frankie and Grace are forced to live together in their joint summer home, bringing into the open some real issues faced by aging women. I’ve loved Jane Fonda since On Golden Pond, and before that, I loved her when her workout video helped whip me into shape.  I can still see my friend Linda and me in her basement workout room, sweating as Jane commanded: “Make it burn!”  I’ve been a fan of Lily Tomlin’s since she introduced Edith Ann on Laugh-In, and I’ve watched my video of her brilliant one-woman show, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, which opened in Broadway more than thirty years ago, at least a dozen times.
So I asked him again, because I wanted to know - wasn’t Jane Fonda a well-intended person who had just gotten some bad press in a particularly sensitive political climate? And finally, I got my answer.
“She was hated for being an activist, but we all were,” he said. “She resisted the Vietnam War, and nobody was liked for that. We were all hated at the beginning.”
He talked a little more about Jane and her husband Tom (Hayden) going off on a few political tangents, ending with, “She did a lot of good things.”
His answer seemed somehow obvious in retrospect.They were all hated at the beginning for opposing the war.  Of course they were, because to think that way was deemed unpatriotic, particularly then. I may have figured this out for myself a long time ago, but the big picture escaped me when I was too busy trying to keep track of the small details of my job.  I suppose it is possible that Noam had tried to explain something like this to me years before, but I heard it differently this time because I’ve learned so much more about the world of activism in the past ten years.
Much like Fonda’s character, Grace, who as of the last episode of Grace and Frankie is planning to change some things for aging women in, let’s just say, a more personal way.

If you're interested in Jane Fonda's version of what happened wrt the Vietnam War, read this:

The Truth About My Trip to Hanoi

Friday, July 29, 2016

Accidental Adoption

I was walking Roxy along the cobblestone sidewalk in Kendall Square during a much-needed late lunch break when the inevitable happened.  I adopted a child. My friend Ann, a long-ago graduate of MIT’s Linguistics Department, had been on my mind, and the all-American curly-haired blond teen who approached me reminded me of her son, Galen.  Despite Roxy’s insistent pulling at the other end of the leash (she was just feet from an overflowing trash container), I made eye contact with the young man.  He began his well-practiced spiel, quickly acknowledging that I was obviously a person who cares about the thousands of children who die of starvation each day, shrugging his shoulders every once in a while for emphasis, as if to say, “No brainer, right?”

My sponsored child, courtesy of ChildFund International, inspired by Maya Angelou (it said so on the card) would be a young female named Rajani. Rajani lives in India. She has dark, almost black, eyes and hair, a choppy boy’s haircut bearing a strange resemblance to my childhood pixie cut, and the barest hint of a smile. Purple ruffles were superimposed below her neck in the photo, presumably to underscore that she is indeed female.  I looked over at Roxy’s pleading stare, a Cocker Spaniel trait, and thought about how Laura and I have a deal that we will never spend money over the phone, by mail, etc.,(although we never specifically discussed on the street) from a solicitor without checking in with one another.  This is not a trust issue – it is an issue of two women with big hearts and long fingers reaching down deep into their well-worn wallets.  

Finally convinced this was legitimate, I gave my bankcard information to the young man and walked away with Rajani’s paperwork, reminding myself that I didn’t have to adopt her completely.  Even if I didn’t continue paying thirty-three dollars per month, the money I had just donated would go toward something she needed. Laura would surely forgive thirty-three dollars for a young girl in need.

I crossed the street toward the MIT Coop, eyeing a shady spot on the grassy mound in the center of the Wednesday Farmer’s Market, and felt again some strong resistance from Roxy. I turned to see her short stub wagging as she sniffed a small white Shih Tzu with dirty paws and a face in need of a warm, wet cleaning. She has not always been good with smaller dogs, but has mellowed in her old age. “His name is Prince,” the girl holding the Shih Tzu’s leash said, speaking and moving with slow deliberation. The dog’s tousled hair was standing up in the center of his head, and he resembled the young woman, who had a thick cluster of braids standing straight up in the center of her head, flaring outward like perfectly cooked asparagus at the edges of the wide band that held it all. I commented that her hair matched her dog’s, and she seemed pleased at the concept, as if she had never before considered the resemblance. Roxy has gently curling hair on her ears that resembles Laura’s hair on a good day, though her brownish-gold hair coloring and brown eyes are like mine. Yes, there is often a resemblance between pets and their owners.

Roxy and I found a cool spot under the trees, and I put the ChildFund booklet under me to protect my white pants on the grass. It’s been a long time since I played in the grass, but I assumed it still stains white clothing. I took a deep breath to settle myself as Roxy sniffed the grass where someone had no doubt once upon a time dropped food. Then I heard a familiar voice and turned around to see the Shih Tzu and the young woman.  She wore dark jeans and made the bold decision to sit directly on the grass.

“I know your dog’s name, but what’s yours?” I finally asked, figuring she must want to talk, since she was staring at Roxy and me.  “Kanji” she said, and I’m sure I’m spelling it wrong, but that’s what it sounded like phonetically. “I’m Nigerian and African-American,” she said. 

I remembered my goal when I was in my mid-thirties to plan a trip somewhere out of my comfort zone, somewhere breathtaking. After spending many nights with a large globe in my lap, I finally admitted my outrageous dream – to go to Africa on an animal safari.  I ended up planning a two-week trip a few years later to Tanzania with my friend Cindy, who had spent time in western Africa with the Peace Corps.  I told some of the story to Kanji. “It took a lot of my savings, but it was a highlight of my life,” I said, realizing it had been almost twenty-five years since I took that trip. 

“I would like to go to Nigeria one day.  My brother wants us to go and visit there,” she said. She had striking features, and a gentle, soft way about her. 

“Why not practice saying, ‘I will go to Nigeria one day,’” I suggested.

A smile gradually stretched across her face as she looked to the side and pondered the concept. “I will go to Nigeria one day,” she said, looking back at me with bright eyes.

“Are you a student in the area?” I asked.

“No, I’m not a student.  In fact, I’m unemployed.”

“What kind of job are you looking for?”

“I don’t know, but I made a first step and talked with someone who can help place me.  I’m waiting to hear,” she said.  And after a pause, “I actually love writing. I want to be a writer.”

“I can help you with that if you’re interested,” I said, and I gave her my card. “It helps to read the writings of others. I suggest that you read something of mine, or anything someone else has written, and tell me how the story makes you think about something in your own life, and we can start a correspondence.  I tutored many people your age when I was working on my graduate degree.”  I didn’t tell her that I quit before finishing my master’s in psych counseling when the focus shifted to kids. I would have wanted to take them all home. Not just the kids, but all of the troubled people who would confide in me. I would be too sensitive for that work.

We chatted a little more, and then it was time for Roxy and me to get back to MIT.  “Thank you” she said, taking my hand and shaking it firmly, smiling again.

They say things happen in threes.  I felt today that I had three adoptees – Rajani, Ganji, and our beautiful Roxy, whom we met thirteen years ago at just over a year old. We had gone to the vet to have our two cats checked out, with no plan to adopt a dog.  But then we saw her immense brown eyes peering back at us through a matt of dirty brown hair, waiting to be seen by two big-hearted women. 

I was sure that Laura would forgive my accidental adoption, and maybe we would even do it for an entire year. No brainer, right?