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This article by Jamie Saxon was prepared for the December 22, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Finding Inspiration

At the end of a truly uninspiring election year I was mired in dark ruminations about how we would all be buried, helplessly, in a 21st century political Pompeii. I found myself staring out my office window, frozen. One day I looked out and saw a stray cat skulking about in the tiny strip of woods left in between my office building and the next complex. I saw him again a few days later and again a few days after that so I knew he was finding food and shelter. This cat’s got game I thought. He’s got nothing to look forward to but his survival instinct is clearly intact. I find that cat inspiring.

That stray cat made me think about my neighbor, Kyra Duran, the managing editor of the magazine of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. Kyra, who also volunteers for Friends of Homeless Animals, has always got stray mother cats and their newborn kittens safely stashed somewhere in her house (in the guest room, in the shower stall, in the garage), tucked in a box with a towel.

Diagnosed with kidney disease at age 12, Kyra knew that one day she would need a kidney transplant. She took a turn for the worse at the beginning of this year and needed that transplant. Her sister was a match but another medical situation ruled her out. So Kyra’s husband, Phil, a geophysicist who volunteers with students at Lawrence High School, reached out through his church and Kyra’s church and sent an E-mail to the school district’s assistant superintendent (who is also a member of Phil’s church), who in turn forwarded it to, well, everyone. More than 20 people stepped forward and said they would donate their kidney — to a total stranger. One of them was a match, Lawrenceville resident Sue Bunn, a gym teacher at Lawrence Middle School. The operation was successful, and both women are doing excellently. I find Sue — and all those people who stepped forward — inspiring.

This past July we made our annual trip to a cottage on a lake in New Hampshire. I met a woman there, Ann Marie Mires, a forensic anthropologist for the coroner’s office in Boston. She has worked on every missing child case in Massachusetts in the last 20 years. How do you do it? I asked her. How do you settle the train wreck in your heart when you uncover the remains of a 13-year-old who was raped and killed in the woods — and then get up the next day and do it again? “I garden from Saturday morning straight through until Sunday night. I grow things.” I find Ann Marie inspiring.

In October I wrote an article on women who made a radical career change after surviving breast cancer. One woman I interviewed, Diana Fortier, left the corporate world and started a boutique, Bee in Style, at 2 Chambers Street. She swapped a corporate executive salary for no salary and all the shop’s proceeds go to Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, part of the American Cancer Society. She says: “On a rainy day when people say, ‘How dreary,’ I say, ‘Embrace it, and make that day into something.’” I find Diana inspiring.

This past weekend my nine-year-old son made his stage debut in a new production of the Nutcracker presented by Princeton Dance and Theater Studio. He has only been dancing a year but he desperately wanted to be in the show. Geoffrey Doig-Marx, a theater dance instructor who comes in from New York, was stumped only momentarily as he tried to figure out how to fit Mackenzie into his new Act I setting, a home for wayward girls in Bulgaria. No problem — Geoffrey decided Mackenzie would be Sheldon Schnitzelhoff, the spoiled, bratty son of one of the two mean headmistresses.

Mackenzie had his doubts at the beginning. But Geoffrey knows dance and, more importantly, he know boys — he gave Mackenzie a GI Joe to use as a prop, let him pick his nose (in character, of course), ride around the stage on a real cannon, have a sword fight, and die a slow, horrible death. Through sheer creativity and an indefatigable sense of humor, Geoffrey pulled off the unthinkable. Mackenzie had the time of his life performing in front of hundreds of people — with his hair slicked up like Alfalfa in the Little Rascals, wearing short pants and knee socks — and the audience ate it up. I find Geoffrey inspiring.

Just when I needed it most, this year I learned that inspiration comes from disparate experiences and unlikely encounters. If you become a keen observer and a careful listener you will find that there are some very good people in this world. And, to paraphrase Dorothy, many of them can be found in your own backyard.

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