A bit more than two decades ago, my partner and I shipped most of our belongings cross country and packed the remainder into an underpowered Pontiac LeMans hatchback to drive to our new home in California. It was summer, the car had no air conditioning, and we started the trip from Boston after we'd picked up a friend to help with the long hours at the wheel.
We took a southern route despite the heat, because we'd been invited to visit a pair of authors at their home in Oklahoma. I didn't know them well; It would probably be more accurate to say that I was a rabid fanboy who was a friend of a friend. Still, I thought that the journey would be worth it for the opportunity to meet one of my heroes.
What was originally intended to be a brief meeting turned into a several day affair; they invited us into their quirky house filled with birds and odd-shaped rooms, fed us, and brought us to an Intertribal Powwow (one of their recent books had featured a female private-detective/apprentice shaman). What I remember most is how incredibly gracious, friendly and kind they were to relative strangers. It was humbling and inspirational.
My parents had raised me to believe that charity was a virtue...but our giving had primarily been impersonal. We raised money for worthy causes and then sent it off. That's valuable, and I applaud everyone who opens their hearts and wallets for those in need! But the charity that those two authors had offered to a trio of tired strangers was intensely personal, and I have ever since tried to pay forward their altruism. To offer help and kindness in a personal manner rather than just signing a check.
Anyway...after a few days, we returned to our journey and eventually lost contact with the authors. Still, memories of that visit had been something that I'd treasured for a long time.
This last weekend, I noticed that the two authors were going to be in town for a convention. Since I have (finally) published a novel, I thought that I'd drop by their table. I would, I thought, be able to meet them as a fellow author. To share my work, and to tell them how much they have inspired me over the years.
Now, here's the weird and wonderful part: It has been more than twenty years since I'd seen them last...but when I introduced myself they remembered me. They were still gracious. They were still friendly. They were still kind.
I know who I want to be when I grow up.