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Honoring the Small Connections

by Stephanie Koehler

As I awoke in my Blue Ridge Mountain home this morning after a long night or torrential rains and violent storms, wandering past my two sleeping dogs — I gently rubbed my foot along the floor underneath the skylight — hoping my 100 year old house had not sprung a leak.  With no evidence of water, I walked into the kitchen pouring a cup of coffee into my favorite mug — hand painted with cobalt blue hearts. I am warmed by the thought that my dear friend in California has a matching mug.  I feel strangely connected.

As I listen to the roaring rain outside my door — thinking about my schedule for the day — I reach over to my iPhone to check the flurry of messages that typically await me each morning.  I am greeted by two emails from my friend Dan Harrington containing links to two articles about unfathomable abduction and murder of his daughter, Morgan — and the brave and loving efforts he and his wife, Gil, are making to keep her name and spirit alive.  The first is an article in the VA Tech newspaper honoring the fact that Morgan would be graduating in two weeks — had her life not been tragically cut short. Missing peace: Morgan Harrington’s parents need answers:(

The second article is about an inaugural art show containing Morgan’s art — opening this month at the VA Tech Carilion School of Medicine, where Dan is a Sr. Associate Dean.   Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute’s Creativity in Health Education Program invites public to the inaugural art show: ( Ironically, my major task for the day is to deliver two additional pieces for the art show — paintings by artist, Jane Lillian Vance — Morgan’s teacher at VA Tech.    Stroke of genius: Virginia Tech instructor builds cultural bridges: (

In a world where so often things seem disjointed and random — I am suddenly struck with a deep sense of connectedness.  Like a movie playing through my mind — I see a snapshot of the last 19 months — starting with a day in October 2009.  I had just spoken to a group of Business/Marketing students at VA Tech and was recapping the class with the professor over a beer in downtown Blacksburg.  Much like today — a thunderous rain was pounding this mountain college town.  My phone rang and the caller i.d. read “Dan Harrington.”

I had never met the Harringtons, yet I knew the story of their daughter, Morgan — only missing for a few days at the time.  The reasons why he was calling are insignificant to the point of my story — other than to say it was to become a bridge to a friendship with some of the most remarkable people I have ever known.

Little did I know — as I stood huddled under an awning on Main Street in Blacksburg during a rainstorm — how much this family would come to mean to me.  Little did I know — that months later — in circumstances completely disconnected from that conversation in the rain — I would meet an artist and teacher named Jane Lillian Vance.  Little did I know — that I would have the honor of working on a film about the cultural bridges of Jane Vance’s work has built between our small village in the Blue Ridge Mountains and another in Nepal (A Gift for the Village).  Little did I know that the film would be dedicated to her student — Morgan Harrington — who was to travel with her to Nepal the following summer.  Little do we EVER know — how the smallest connection or interaction may change the course of our lives — both good and bad.

So, on this day — as the rain subsides and the skies begin to clear — I want to honor the bridges of friendship and connection that have carried many of us through very difficult times in our lives.

I also want to honor the bridges that will carry us to the path that lies ahead.

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