Cup 29

Person: Sue Carter

Drink: Grande house coffee from Biggby on Grand River 

“The water buffalo are waiting at the gate. Let’s go!”
This was a common phrase heard by Sue Carter growing up. It was one of her mother’s favorite. An expression that implied there was a whole world outside waiting to be discovered and you weren’t going to find it sitting inside waiting.

The mentality clearly wore off on Sue.

In 2001, Sue led the first all-women expedition to the North Pole. Then she wrote a book about it.

In March of 2010, she traveled to Malawi to document the efforts of MSU Professor Terrie Taylor and her team’s decade-long effort to study and understand the nature of childhood malaria.

She has been a journalism professor at Michigan State for the past two decades and each summer she takes a group of young minds to the United Kingdom for a once in a lifetime study abroad experience.

All of these experiences are on top of a 17 year career as a broadcast journalist during which she earned various accolades including the UPI Sports Broadcaster of the Year and an Emmy for her documentary “The Great Experiment.” In April 2007, she was inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame. If that wasn’t enough, she also obtained a law degree from Wayne State and is an Ordained Priest.

But if you met Sue in person, you would never suspect the warmhearted woman in her sixties would have such a such a remarkable number of experiences under her belt. I only knew because a mutual friend insisted we talk. After telling me about her many experience he described her as the “textbook definition of living your dreams joyfully and totally.” So I emailed her as soon as possible to see if she’d be able to meet.

A week later, I was sitting across from Sue in a crowded coffee shop listening to her various stories and the lessons she learned in the process.

80% of life is just showing up.

I wondered about her trek to the North pole, so I asked her to tell me what spurred the grand idea. Turns out it all happened over a simple cup of coffee. She was meeting with a friend that mentioned recently joining a team of women going to the North Pole. That was an adventure right up Sue’s alley and she responded, “Not without me, you’re not!”  Then she found a way to join the crew.

Sue explained that when it comes to life, you have to be present, sign up, make opportunities happen instead of waiting for them to arrive.

But the trip wasn’t meant to be. The team encountered roadblock after roadblock and the plans were canceled. However, that didn’t stop Sue. Something about the trip had struck a cord within her and she knew she needed to continue pursuing the goal. After a short break, Sue took charge and after nearly eight years of the planning, the trip became a reality. Twelve women skied from Russia to the North Pole enduring incredible environmental and personal challenges during the 130-mile expedition.

The trip was a lesson in perseverance and trusting intuition. Sue’s story illustrated that the pursuit of a goal doesn’t always go according to plan. Success might not appear exactly as expected or within the desired time frame, but with persistence, faith, and hard work, things eventually come together.

And sometimes they come together in interesting ways.

We didn’t dive into the particulars of the trip; however, Sue did point out one interesting detail. When they reached the North Pole a team from NASA was waiting to do an international webcast before taking them home.  Sue had a longtime friend that worked for NASA. She had been meaning to go visit the friend for years but hadn’t found the time. Interestingly enough, that friend was put on the helicopter team and the two friends had the chance to reconnect—at the North Pole of all places.

That was one of the many serendipitous moments in Sue’s life. A few years ago, she realized that she was being called to the ministry—and took a sabbatical from teaching to move to New York for to begin the process of being ordained within the Episcopal Church. In one of her classes she befriended a man from Africa who was also in the program. After finishing her ordination, they parted ways when Sue moved back to Michigan to resume teaching. However, their lives again cross paths when Sue travelled to Malawi to to film the documentary on Professor Taylor’s work with Malaria. As fate would have it, Sue was in the same location as her fellow priest and she was able to reconnect with him halfway around the world from where they originally met.

I loved hearing Sue recount these small world experiences. I’m constantly amazed at those situations where everything seems to fall into place like magic, like the stars aligned perfectly to make a certain situation happen. It’s an exhilarating feeling and one that has happened to me a few times in the past six months.

I tried to explain that I knew exactly what she was talking about, but I couldn’t organize my thoughts in a way that made sense. I didn’t want to call those moments coincidences, but I couldn’t think of a better way to explain them. Luckily Sue understood what I was trying to say and expressed my idea much more eloquently. She said they  were situations that were “rightly ordered”.

During those moments, the countless pieces of our lives are in sync—in proper alignment—and the result is that things fall into place. Being in a rightly ordered state is a good place to be.

I asked her how one creates a situation that is rightly ordered.

Sue explained that these moments seem like coincidence, but there’s more to it than just chance. Rightly ordered situations are affirmations of the choices we make. When things fall together, it is a sign that we are on the right road, that we are making the right decisions.

It was reassuring to hear that if you pay attention to the surroundings, the world gives you feedback. And it works with both good and bad choices. If the signs around you don’t feel right and nothing seems to be going right, there is something out of alignment. That’s a sign it’s probably a good idea to reevaluate some decisions.

We continued talking, Sue continuing to pass along great pieces of advice and share great stories. It felt like I was sitting with an old friend I’d known for years and when our meeting ended and we parted ways I felt a great sense of calm. It was partly from her warm and selfless nature and partly from her advice.

I am growing more and more excited about what life after graduation holds, but that process requires a lot of decision making—and decision making is hard. What makes it especially difficult is that I ultimately have to make the decisions alone. I have friends and family that are supportive and offer advice, but at the end of the day, the decision about my next step needs to be my own. 

That responsibility is starting to wear on me.

But Sue helped me put things in perspective. Her stories of trusting her heart and taking chances, changing careers when the time was right, and dealing with the struggles along the way were encouraging.

One of the many lessons I will take away from Cup 29 is that life is dynamic. Once I make a decision, I can read the signs and readjust if necessary. That mindset takes a certain level of faith that, with the right approach to life, everything works out in the end. It also reduces much of the fear caused by the uncertainty of what the future holds.

I’m grateful for the lesson because living in fear of what the future only holds us back.

And I don’t have time for that.

Because the water buffalo are waiting at the gate.