Every now and then, someone waltzes into your life when you least expect it and changes it forever.

In June of ’08 I attended a house directors’ conference in Seattle. Most of us were in casual clothes, but there was this tiny sprite who was dressed in adorable suits and fancy-dancy clothes every day. She had this adorable little laugh that brought sunshine into every space she entered. She’s maybe 5′ tall..in heels.. weighs 12 pounds, they don’t make clothes small enough for her, and she’s got this really adorable short, red  haircut that reminds me of Mary Martin in Peter Pan. She became the belle of the ball.

We started to get to know each other that week. We ended up on the same campus that fall, and were kind of the renegades among the house mom crew, even though we joined them for get-togethers.  But Laurel and I loved to go to the campus bar, share a hamburger or whatever else sounded good, and have a couple of drinks together. That was WAY below  the status of our compatriots who wouldn’t be caught dead in a campus bar.

We ate a bunch of really good Mexican food that term (along with maybe a margarita or two), took long walks, and even ended up with the worst haircuts in the history of the world at the same time.  When I left to go to San Diego State, I knew there would be a void in my heart that no one else could ever fill.

Laurel is one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever known. She danced in Vegas back in the Rat Pack days and lists people as friends we’d all cash in our pensions to know. Then, she danced for the troops in Vietnam, and performed the most unselfish, heroic and dangerous act that I won’t share, because it’s very private to her. I’m trying to get her to write a book about it — but she probably won’t. To her, it was just the right thing to do.

She’s been a real estate maven, became a flight attendant at (I forget whether it was 40 or 50) and retired from Continental after 10 years. That’s when she got a phone call from the service that placed me in northern California for my first job, and they placed her at USC. Since then, she’s been on two other campuses. There are gigantic cards all over her office from her girls. In a generation of college kids who haven’t been taught to appreciate things that are done for them, hers would get in a monkey knife fight for her.

And when I called to tell her about my situation at Alpha Phi, four weeks into the term when there would be no jobs available until the next fall, without even breathing, she said, “You’re going to stay at my condo in Vegas.” That was three months ago. Tonight is my last night here, and I will never be able to thank her enough. Because of her generosity, I was able to finish my book that had been totally destroyed by the publisher I fired, sleep someplace that was both quiet and dark, was able to decompress, gave me time to think about what’s important — and not — in my life, and gave me a place to go when there was no other. Most of all, it gave me the space to get my act together and learn to trust the universe again. Five weeks of hell had taken its toll, and I was a basket case. Because of her, (oh, and her firmly kicking me in the ass to get over my pity party) I’m back on track.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life at this very moment of time. I don’t know whether my house director days are over. I don’t know whether I’m supposed to trust that my writing is where I should be putting my energies.  There was a time, before Abbi got recruited to start the cheerleading program at a small university in California that I was going to sell everything I owned, get in the car, drive south, hit the Gulf of Mexico, take a left and drive for a year. Maybe that’s the next step. But regardless, I’m back to understanding that I’m where I’m supposed to be — right here; right now. Without Laurel, I would never have had the time or space to get my peace back.

My favorite cousin and best friend, Hank Fidler, died when he was only 51. I lost so many people I cared about before and after him; and lost two more in the last week. People I haven’t seen for years, but regret not staying in contact with.  I thank whatever source rules our life everyday for Facebook and Classmates for putting me back in contact with so many of the friends I lost over the years, and am searching for some of those who seem to have gone into the Witness Protection Program. And as total technology neophyte, I’m still thankful for cell phones, e-mails, and hope to learn how to do skype so I can keep my connections with these people. I’ve even discovered sorority sisters from across the country — and am so happy that one of them, a girl I never spoke to in high school, has become a close friend.

I’ll never be able to repay Laurel for her generosity and hospitality over the last three months. And will spend today doing laundry and getting her condo boo-ti-ful for her sister to show up tomorrow. But I pray that this beautiful lady will always be a part of my life. Because life is too short to lose someone you love.

So for today, I love you Laurel. Meeting you that day in ’08 made my life a better place.

I hope my story of meeting Laurel will make you appreciate your friends more and encourage you to reach out to those you used to love but who have been lost over the years. Don’t ever take them for granted again.

On Monday, I’ll start sharing with you my wisdom on what needs to be done to get out country back on track. For today, be safe out there. You are loved.