Be honest. What runs through your mind when you first take your seat on an airplane? Do you hope the stranger sitting next to you will be a brilliant conversationalist and the two of you will enjoy a lively conversation for the duration of your upcoming flight? Or do you avert your eyes, pull out a book, and pop some earbuds in, sending the signal that you’re not interested in small talk?
I default to option #2 most often, although I do like to at least say ‘hello’ before I bury my nose in my latest read. But magic can unfold when we open ourselves up to conversation.
Three years ago, in September 2018, I found myself on a flight next to a woman I didn’t know. My daughters were elsewhere on the plane. It was a spur-of-the-moment trip and our seats weren’t together. I likely exchanged a quick greeting with the woman, but nothing more. I was mapping out the logistics of the launch of my second novel. She was busy on her phone.
Eventually I noticed she was typing paragraph after paragraph on her tiny device. This intrigued me. I think I may have even asked if she was pulling together a blog post, although I don’t remember exactly how that initial conversation started. I do remember mentioning I was a new author, something I wouldn’t normally tell a stranger.
There can be rare moments in life when we click with someone we only just met. We clicked.
She said her name was Tara. Tara talked about her passion around the retreats she ran in California involving horses. It sounded fascinating. She mentioned her grown son, and how proud she was of his accomplishments. I could relate. We were traveling to my daughter’s interview at a graduate school, and I was a proud momma as well. I think Tara was traveling home after visiting her son. Again, I’ve lost the threads of our conversation, but our chat would be the start of a budding friendship that’s turned out to be a true blessing in my life.
Our flight was running late. We both had tight connections with little chance of making our next flights. I gave her one of my shiny new business cards, and she gave me her contact information. Often this will be the end of this type of exchange, but for us, it was just the beginning.
Luck was smiling down on us that day, and we made our connection. Tara did, too.
We had a wonderful time on our girls’ trip. We dipped our toes in the ocean (always a treat since we live in land-locked North Dakota!), my daughter’s interview went well, and she’s now starting her third year in the program she interviewed for on the day after that fateful flight.
After we got home, I checked out Tara’s website, curious. It surprised and saddened me to learn she was in the midst of a fight for her very life. She was battling cancer (something she never mentioned during our initial visit) and trying to save her Wind Horse Sanctuary.
Tara is very active on social media, and I’ve slowly gotten to know more about this woman I randomly met on an airplane. She’s articulate, funny, supportive, and incredibly brave.
We stay in touch. She’s generously taught me valuable tidbits about the various social media platforms. She watched a video of the very first podcast interview I ever gave. In the episode, I talked about my path to becoming a published author. She reached out to me after watching it, intrigued, and we continued to communicate back and forth.
Her health struggles escalated, and I had grave concerns for Tara. To make matters worse, she shared that her mother was battling cancer as well.
We live very different lives, Tara and I. She moved to beautiful Kauai, is a fiercely independent woman, and lives in a yurt surrounded by pets and horses. We marvel at the differences in our surroundings, particularly in the winter, when her weather is mild and ours is ridiculously frigid.
When COVID struck the world, she put out an offer to say a special prayer for anyone in need. She was traveling to a sacred location along the ocean and wanted to offer hope and encouragement. It was April 2020, and my father was in the hospital, suffering from this scary new virus and fighting for his life. I reached out to Tara, told her what was happening, and she offered up a special prayer for Dad (Dad recovered!)
I felt compelled to send Tara a copy of my first book, Whispering Pines. I hoped she’d find the story fun and uplifting, something to make her smile, to entertain her on hard days. Her cancer treatments are tough and ongoing.
She’d mentioned a desire to write her own memoir, and I encouraged her. If ever a story needed to be told, it was Tara’s. She has a knack for finding the gifts hidden within her struggles. She shares those struggles with the world, not for sympathy, but as an example of how to overcome life’s challenges. Tara is like a candle, bringing light to a world that has far too many shadows.
We both went on living our lives, and Tara began pulling her memoir together. Since I had a few novels out by that time, she’d reach out occasionally with questions about the more technical aspects of writing a book. I knew she’d enrolled in an online course, much as I had when I was first starting out, but I don’t believe we ever discussed the specifics.
Then something crazy happened. When she reached the end of Whispering Pines, she read the Acknowledgement section. It’s a long section given it was my very first book, and I was bursting with excitement and gratitude when I finally reached that last step.
We were both in for a big shock. Unbeknownst to either of us, we’d ended up taking the same online course for self-publishing. That was a fun coincidence. But the shocker came when she read the ‘thank you’ I’d included in the back of my book to Ramy Vance, my book coach.
She was smack dab in the middle of her own coaching sessions with Ramy!
What are the odds? We took that same program, a couple of years apart, and they have lots of coaches. I love when things like this happen. And I’m so proud of Tara. Despite many obstacles, she finished her amazing book and published it in August: Grace, Grit & Gratitude-A Cancer Thriver’s Journey from Hospice to Full Recovery with the Healing Power of Horses, author Tara Coyote. The book is selling like gangbusters, as it should. Tara has faced incredible odds, and she keeps coming out on top.
A few weeks ago, we made another trip out to the western US, this time to visit our daughter at the school she interviewed with during the same trip when I met Tara.
I thought it was fitting to get a picture of me showing off Tara’s wonderful new book while on the plane. I hope I played a small part in helping her bring her story to the world.
Tara’s also been working her way through all of my books. She reached out to me recently to discuss my approach to a difficult death scene in my latest book “Celia’s Gifts.” My ongoing communications with Tara remind me that the fresh paths we choose to travel can lead to new friendships. We’re learning together as we navigate the complicated world of publishing.
I’m so glad I didn’t stick my nose in a book three years ago and ignore the woman sitting next to me on that plane!
I invite you to check out Tara’s story. I hope she’ll inspire you, too. You’ll find her all over social media, bringing attention to her many important causes. My favorite place to stay up to date with her is on Instagram at @taracoyote and @gracegritgratitudebook (be careful not to click on one of the unscrupulous people that are coming out of the woodwork pretending to be her now that she is seeing success with her book!)
If you’d like to check out her book, here is a link you may find helpful:
I encourage you to keep watching for opportunities to connect with positive, uplifting people like Tara in what is becoming an increasingly divisive world. There are countless wonderful people out there, and you never know where a simple hello might take you.
You just might find some magic of your own! Kim
A wave of melancholy washed over me, despite the beautiful summer evening, as I relaxed on the dock with my nearly grown girls on the eve of my fifty-second birthday. I hated the idea of celebrating my birthday without Mom. Many “firsts” following the death of a loved one create peaks in the ebb and flow of our grief. This one felt especially poignant. There would be no “Happy Birthday” wishes from her the following day. What would my birthday feel like without her?
Unwilling to allow the all-to-familiar blues to take hold, I meandered off the dock, leaving my girls to their fishing. I’d let writing distract me. As a new author, I was blogging weekly to improve my skills and attract new readers. Months earlier, I’d scheduled out my blog concepts, deciding the prompt for my birthday week would be “Gift of Night Waves,” the title to a pivotal chapter in my first novel. In the book, my protagonist stumbles upon a priceless gift as ocean waves lap at her feet.
Standing on the shale shores of a murky reservoir in the middle of the country might not yield the same level of inspiration, but birds were twittering their night song, and a soft breeze caressed my face, smelling of fresh-cut grass with an undercurrent of fish. I needed to open my mind to ideas for a post to match my blog title.
Stepping carefully on the shifting shale, I scanned the shoreline. Tiny bubbles popped to the surface mere inches from my toes, and the darting shadows of minnows hinted at a hidden world below. Something bobbed nearby. I paused, bending over to investigate.
At first, I thought it was a flat piece of driftwood, but the shape wasn’t quite right. Curious, I picked it up. As I turned the item over, my mind flashed back to another July evening, three years earlier.
We’d just returned from our maiden voyage in new kayaks. I wasn’t yet accustomed to getting in and out of the torpedo-shaped craft, and capsizing was a legitimate concern. Two yards from shore, I plunged one flip-flop-clad foot into the water to avoid scraping my new boat along the sharp shale bottom. Slimy muck enveloped my foot and encircled my ankle. I clumsily swung my other foot over and out, placing it more carefully on the slick surface below, intent on keeping my shorts dry.
I stepped toward shore; my left foot rendered bare as I pulled it from the sucking sludge, my shoe still buried. Unconcerned, I safely stowed my kayak, then turned back to retrieve my sandal, hopeful I’d be able to wash the clinging mud off my favorite shoes.
Returning to the exact spot, or so I thought, I probed first with my toes, then with my fingers, refusing to consider what else might be trapped in the quagmire below. My actions did little more than cloud the water with sediment, rendering my eyes useless in the search.
A flip-flop couldn’t just disappear. It had to be there. But where? As the sun dipped below the horizon, I admitted to temporary defeat. Waiting until morning would allow the disturbed lake bottom to settle. Hopefully the shoe would be revealed in the bright light of day.
The following morning, clear water and sparkling sun revealed nothing. Had my buoyant little shoe floated away on the waves? I refused to believe it.
Searching for my lost shoe became a family affair, but not even the twenty-dollar reward offered to the kids would be enough to discover my shoe’s hidey-hole. Mom would shake her head over the ridiculousness of my silly reward, finding my obsession over finding my cheap, missing shoe absurd.
Too soon, autumn chased summer away. While winterizing the cabin, I considered tossing my single remaining flip-flop. But I refused to give up on my quest.
Eventually, the lone sandal fell to the bottom of the shoe basket full of castoffs. Someone would occasionally joke about searching our bay for my missing shoe when they needed spending money, but there was likely nothing left to find.
“Mom, what’s that?”
My mind ripped back to the present. The aqua, pink and white striped straps and the cork-like bottom of the dripping shoe in my hand matched my now infamous missing flip-flop. There was only one logical explanation.
“Did you two put this in here?” I accused, rounding on my daughters, cold water trickling down my arm as I held my discovery high in the air. I could read the confusion on their faces. If they were trying to trick me by planting my one remaining flip-flop down here, they were doing a masterful job of masking their scheme. Unable to accept that I might be holding the missing flip-flop, my mind jumped instead to my husband. Or our son. Who was trying to trick me?
Spinning, I half-ran, half-slipped up the shale embankment toward our cabin with my find. The quickest way to prove my theory was to confirm the sandal I’d kept was no longer in the basket. Dropping my muck-covered discovery on the patio, I hurried inside.
I tossed the collection of shoes onto the kitchen floor in my haste to disprove what I was starting to consider, …and there it was…waiting patiently for me at the wicker bottom of the basket.
No one had tried to trick me by stashing a flip-flop along the shoreline.
I headed back to the patio with the clean shoe, struggling to comprehend the likelihood of a ten-dollar sandal staying in one piece for three years, stuck deep in the mud of a bay that freezes hard every winter, where waves pound and water levels fluctuate. Yanking out a length of garden hose, I rinsed the clinging mud from my discovery. A metal grommet bore heavy corrosion, but beyond that, the shoe still looked nearly identical to its mate.
When I skipped back down to the water’s edge with my reunited shoes, the girls' dubious expressions revealed little elation over my find. The possibility of the twenty-dollar reward had evaporated.
Pondering what had just transpired, I reclaimed my spot on the dock and felt a sense of contentment flow through me. The night’s waves had delivered unapparelled inspiration for my blog post, although capturing the scope of the experience felt daunting. Logic defied the sequence of the evening’s events (the shoe surviving harsh elements for so long, my being in the exact right place, at the perfect time, before my miraculously freed flip-flop could float away.)
My eyes traveled over the clouds dotting the horizon above the surface of our lake, and I accepted that logic didn’t belong in this story. I believe the flip-flop was symbolic, a sign sent from my mom, giving me the most precious of gifts for my birthday: a reminder to never give up, despite how daunting things may feel, and never to forget that she’s still watching over me, celebrating life.
It's been three years since I found my missing flip-flop. I decided to keep the reunited pair in a shadow box in my home office as a constant reminder that mystery and inspiration always surround us. And Mom is still cheering me on!
Allow yourself to be amazed by the gift of the unexplainable, Kim
Kimberly Diede Author
Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Kimberly Diede and I'm a fiction author and family girl. When time permits, I am happiest with a great cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I love to alternate between reading and writing. Winters here can be long, dark and cold. Summers are unpredictable, lovely and always too short. Every season of the year, as in every season of life, is a gift. Let's celebrate it together!