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Friday, July 8, 2011

My Time Capsule

I've been going through file cabinet drawers this week, and it has been fascinating to see the old items I had saved for so many years. I didn't realize it, but this 4-drawer file cabinet held my personal time capsule.

The first thing to catch my eye was several folders of materials about grief and the loss of companion animals. In 1987, toward the end of my 8 years as communications director for a humane society in California, I started a pet loss support group.  I also wrote an article for the humane society's quarterly magazine, of which I was editor/writer/photographer, about the loss of my beloved dog Patches.

The response to the article was overwhelming. Many people wrote letters about the loss of their beloved animals, sharing personal stories about their pets. As I was sorting through the folders, I paused to read some of these touching letters. Back then, letters were either typed or hand-written, which added special poignancy to them and made their emotions even more personal.

In another folder I found an article I had written for my hometown newspaper about my high school Russian club. The caption beneath a photo of the five officers listed me as 'press correspondent.' I was a junior in high school and in the first Russian language class ever taught at that school. Although I remember writing for my junior high school newspaper, I had no recollection of having been the 'press correspondent' for the  Russian club. I went on to serve for 8 years as the director of communications for the largest humane society on the west coast, followed by 20 years as a NASA public affairs officer and manager. That yellowed article presaged most of my professional career, although I never planned on that career route.

Another indication of where my interests lie was a laminated, color photograph of a timber wolf from an unnamed publication. This is interesting since for the past several months I have been a volunteer for a wolf and wolf-dog rescue group in New Mexico. Wolves have always fascinated me, but I didn't remember how far back this interest actually went.

It is interesting to look back and see how my different interests have all connected as my life unfolded. I first took a Russian language class during high school, then went on to earn my B.A. in the teaching of Russian. That led to a job as a voice language transcriptionist doing highly classified work for the National Security Agency. After leaving that job and going to graduate school, I started volunteering with a small local humane society, where I did writing and TV appearances on its behalf.

When I then moved to California, I was hired as the first communications director at a very large humane society. My letter to the editor of the local newspaper caught the attention of someone at NASA, who invited me to join the animal care and use committee that reviewed proposals for the use of animals in research. That led to the offer of a job in that NASA center's public affairs office. Eventually, I was asked whether I would be willing to travel to Moscow for a couple of weeks to help with NASA public affairs work there. I was the only NASA public affairs officer who spoke Russian. I made five other trips there, including one that lasted 3-1/2 months. One of those trips also resulted in the offer of a job at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

After 3 years, I moved back to California, where I read about the need for host families for a group of Russian orphans visiting the state. Since I speak Russian, I volunteered to host a 10-year-old girl, whom I adopted a few months later, although adopting a child was the farthest thing from my mind at the time I volunteered as a host.

When I retired from NASA and moved to New Mexico last year, I learned about an opportunity to meet a wolf and a wolf-dog, which led to my volunteering with the wolf rescue group, primarily as photographer and Web support person.

It's amazing to see how my disparate interests have all connected to bring me where I am today. My interest in Russian and animals came together at NASA. They have intertwined to provide wonderful experiences in so many areas -- working for a humane society; meeting celebrities such as John Glenn, actor Bill Pullman, singer/actor Mandy Patinkin and numerous astronauts; shaking hands with President Bill Clinton; seeing countless space shuttle launches and landings; working in Mission Control Houston and Mission Control Moscow; spending time with wolves; adopting my beautiful daughter, now nearly 18; living in Moscow and being able to talk to local residents in their language (although my daughter once told me that I "sound funny" when I speak Russian).

These seemingly unrelated interests came together in a most unique and unexpected way. It makes me wonder what the next phase of my life will hold, and where my interests will lead me.