In an old Steve Martin film, LA Story, his character is asking for a “sign.”
He finds it on the side of a freeway, a blinking directional sign, a kind of modern oracle to guide him.
I can relate.
In times when life seemingly presents no answers, I grope for them anyway and somehow they appear when I least expect them and in the unlikeliest of places.
Coming from the doctor’s office, something prompts me to glance at the rear window of the car beside mine, with a sticker that asks, “Have you thanked God today?”
There it is—the message at a time when I’m at a loss for solutions to my child’s serious health problem.
And the signs and their messages keep coming. After an eye-check up, I glance at a parked car’s bumper which shouts,
“Got Faith?” More questions to remind me that I have the answers within me.
Driving on the way to teach my multi-cultural, adult college class of Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Caucasians: a composite of soldiers back from multiple Middle East tours of duty; single parents, some never been married; some from inner-city projects and gangs; some who have served time—all wanting better lives through education and a coveted degree.
It’s a daunting challenge and responsibility to teach to this diverse population and their mismatched skill levels.
I’m waiting at a stoplight thinking about this night’s class, and to my right I see a church’s corner sign that reads, “Do More Good.”
No specifics, no details or steps to take…just do more good. Seems so simple, yet profound, reminding me of what I can do.
I have learned that when I need them, the signs appear. I just have to follow them.
As I watched the students march in procession, I thought back to my undergrad college graduation from the University of Illinois in Urbana.
Now, I was attending graduation as a faculty member donned ceremoniously in cap and gown to support the commencement ritual for the new grads at a local college.
Scanning their faces, I could see the pride and the relief that they made it to the prize. I watched them accept their diplomas while their families and friends shouted and applauded as their names were called.
As I reminisced, I remembered that sunny day when I stood beaming in my cap and gown, clutching that hard earned diploma in front of the University's Assembly Hall. I was on top of the world.
I remembered the look on my face in the photo my parents took. I was glowing, filled with hopes, dreams and goals for a bright future.
A college degree was my ticket to a new life, better than my parents had, to live the American dream...the first college grad in our family, let alone the only female.
My four years of study prepared me to be an English teacher K-12. I believed that was the life ahead of me.
Graduating from college is what my mother had encouraged me to do after her own education was cut short by a depression which required her to quit school as an 8th grade honors student and work in the local factory to help her family put food on the table. My father managed to graduate high school which was typical for his generation.
I could relate to the students who pursued a degree while working fulltime, raising families and going to school at night. I appreciated their struggles and determination.
It had not been easy for me either. If it hadn't been for three scholarships and working three jobs, I could not afford to pay for my education. There were no other funds available at the time.
Looking back at that day when the world was my oyster, I thought I knew where the journey would take me: marriage, children, a teaching career and a comfortable life in a small town in the Midwest. I had a master plan and a script to follow. I was all set.
Little did I know, how differently my life would go. I had college credits and a degree but little life experience for what was to come.
Years later after my divorce, I moved East to pursue a corporate communications and marketing career and even became a vice president of a high-tech start-up as my career advanced.
I raised my children as a single parent, then married and divorced again, and ultimately returned to teaching after many years in the business world. Along the way I earned my MA from the University of Richmond.
That was not the plan the day I stood proudly clenching my diploma ready to take on the world, or so I thought.
Where will the journey take the new grads? The one thing I can tell them is that it will be an adventure they cannot imagine and wouldn't want to miss.
Best camera I ever had. No adjustments, no gadgetry…just press the button, indestructible and compact…my Kodak Instamatic.
It was our first summer in Virginia, and the camera was filled with priceless photos and memories from our trip back to Illinois for my father’s second wedding: my daughter as the ring bearer, my children reunited with my brothers, and dad with his siblings from CA who came to see him marry his new wife.
There were still a few pictures left on the roll.
Later that summer, the Instamatic preserved pictures from a trip to NYC with my son, 10 and daughter, 7. A native New Yorker and theatre friend took us “parading,” as he called it, to the Empire State Building, Staten Island and Central Park.
My children and I were making new memories together as we explored the East Coast after our move to northern Virginia from a small town in the Midwest.
When we returned to Virginia, I discovered the camera was missing along with all the memories it carried. I knew I could never replace those Kodak moments.
Several weeks passed before I received a package from someone who had also been in Central Park during the marathon. The Good Samaritan found our address in the camera case and mailed the camera to us.
So the camera and its treasures found their way home, like a faithful family pet that was lost and then returned.
Later that summer, we were exploring Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and stopped for some ice cream at Swenson’s. With tired kids in tow, I left the camera behind, this time on the booth’s seat at the ice cream parlor.
A couple days later, I realized it was gone along with the pictures from our Baltimore trip. A few weeks passed and I received a call from someone who had also stopped for ice cream, found the camera and dropped it off at our home.
Once again the camera was reunited with our family.
I never lost the Instamatic after that summer when we explored our new surroundings. It's now packed away with family albums, slides and other memorabilia.
It preserved the adventures of a single mom and her children adapting to a new life and geography.
Somehow the camera and the memories it saved always returned safely to us. It was part of the family, and through the kindness of strangers who found it in NYC and Baltimore, the camera made it back where it belonged.
Objects do evoke memories. Perhaps that’s why we hold onto them.
Our inexpensive, uncomplicated Instamatic kept our family’s history and helped us hold on to those times when we started a new life together.
Erana Leiken, principal of Tiger Marketing, is a marketing and PR consultant and freelance writer. She also teaches communication courses at the University of Phoenix and Web marketing and interactive content for the Art Institute of Phoenix.
Formerly an NBC reporter, magazine editor, and Web business writer, she is writing creative nonfiction and doing Web consulting. See www.tigermarketing.com.