This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team, about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.
In 2013, Alie Ward’s life fell apart. Soon, her relationship with her partner ended, her father was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, and she felt increasingly unhappy at her job.
“I remember the time when I thought, ‘I’ve only cried four times today.’ It was a good day for me,” Ward said.
Ward was living in Los Angeles at the time. To distract herself from her woes, she loved finding and taking photos of her unconventional obsession: insects. Sometimes, if she found a beetle or bee that she particularly liked, she would post it on Facebook. These messages caught the attention of a woman named Lila Higgins, who worked as an entomologist at the local natural history museum. After seeing Ward’s photos, Higgins asked her if she would like to visit the museum’s insectary.
“For most people, in the middle of a really heinous year, where everything is falling apart around them and the people they love the most are deteriorating, they say, ‘Do you want to come see 40 cockroaches? in an aquarium” (it’s) not what most people would say ‘absolutely,'” Ward said.
“But that’s my jam. I’ve loved bugs since I was little. I wanted nothing more than to see scorpions or larvae.”
When Ward arrived at the museum, Higgins greeted her at the back door.
“Lila had no idea what I was going through in my life at that time,” Ward recalls. “I think she probably didn’t expect someone nervous and tear-stained to meet her at the back door of this museum.”
Higgins handed Ward a lab coat and showed him around the different exhibits.
“I remember her opening this freezer and saying, ‘Come look at this,’ and it was full of dead bugs… And I just remember how excited she was about everything. (It was) such a pass for me to do it. get excited about it in his company and really rediscover what excited me in life.
For the first time in a long time, Ward felt enlightened. Higgins noticed her enthusiasm and suggested Ward volunteer at the museum for a few hours each week.
“She just knew I could be happy there and maybe have something to offer,” Ward recalled. “But at the time, I really felt like I didn’t have much to offer to a lot of people. I was a wreck. I was constantly crying and really worried.”
Despite his doubts, Ward decided to sign up. Every Wednesday, she arrived at the museum. And with each change of volunteer, she felt a little better.
“It gave me a sense of purpose. It helped me reconnect with my love of science and nature that I’d always had, that I really put aside to pursue these career ambitions that weren’t were really not authentic to me.” » Ward said.
Soon, Ward quit his job and began working in science media. She is now the creator and host of a podcast called Ologies. Ward had Higgins on the show as his first guest.
“She’s had such an exponential effect on my life. It’s really because of her that I was able to reconnect with that part of myself, change professional direction and do something that I really love,” said Ward. “Sometimes I shudder when I think about what would have happened if I hadn’t accepted it. What would my life have been like? Who would I be? You know, Lila Higgins changed my life in an instant.”
My Unsung Hero is also a podcast: new episodes are published every Tuesday. To share your unsung hero’s story with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.