Earlier this week, I was thrilled to meet Jane Goodall. After her inspiring talk at the University of Rhode Island, I lined up with hundreds of others to have her sign a copy of her book, Reason for Hope, and have my photo taken with her.
But it was not the first time we had met.
Some people have asked me to tell how this came about, so here goes:
1. It was 1992, I was living in Tokyo, and one day, I saw a flyer in the supermarket (this was before the Internet) saying that Jane Goodall was coming to speak. I was disappointed I couldn’t go.
2. As well as teaching English, I babysat for expat families. A few days later, on the bookshelf in one home, I saw books by Goodall, all signed with personal messages.
3. When the parents got home, I asked about the books and said Jane Goodall had always been my hero.
4. “We’re friends with her. In fact, she’s coming to stay with us tomorrow. Would you like to meet her?”
It has always felt so magical that I was in just the right place at the right time. I went there for an extended afternoon tea, and Jane invited me to come back the next day. So, I did. She is even lovelier one-on-one than she appears on the screen.
At that point in my life, I was struggling to find my way. Her generosity in helping me sort through some stuff and point myself in the general right direction was no less than life-changing. I came away from the experience clutching two promises, determined I’d fulfill them.
The first promise I fulfilled within a couple of years. I’ve been living it ever since, though it has certainly had its trials. But her example helped me give myself permission to follow my dream. (Back then, I thought I knew what my dream was, but felt I should probably do something more conventional first. I inexpertly expressed “conventional” as a degree in archaeology, living in Japan, then a stint in outdoor education, before I knuckled down and worked in restaurants while pursuing that long-desired career in kid-lit.)
But finding my way to keeping the second promise, which required further exploring the first promise, has taken me along winding paths, brushing past the obvious as I hurtled into various dead-ends. That was until earlier this year when I knew I was finally fulfilling it. (Isn’t it funny how something can be staring you in the face all along but be so difficult to truly grasp—until you’re suddenly ready?) To say I’ve been longing for some years to tell Jane how grateful I am—especially for the promises that have steered my life’s course—is an understatement. So, it seems quite magical that I should be given that rare chance and with such perfect timing.
But I’m just one person affected by my experiences with her. Jane’s extraordinary empathy and spirit continue to touch so many apes—both the chimpanzees and us human apes. I hope you’ll watch her talk at URI.