Edie Preston is glad Kay Couvillion came into her life — and the life of her son — eight years ago.
“Luckily, Kay is an educator. So, many people, young and old, are influenced by her daily. She always sees the good in everyone she meets,” Preston wrote in her e-mail nominating Couvillion for someone who lives her life with inner peace. “I have never been around anyone who is so at peace with everything and everyone as Kay is.”
Couvillion, 54, quickly dismisses all claims of near-sainthood.
However, she admits she is a major supporter of people taking responsibility for creating joy in their own lives.
“Joy is a duty,” she said.
She went through a period in her own life when her mantra was tested. With the help of friends and family, she made it through the divorce that rocked her world in 1996 and 1997 and came out stronger than ever.
But it wasn’t easy or without its bumps and bruises. And now, how does she live her life with such inner peace?
“One reason is friendship – and finding the balance in life,” Couvillion said, as she pulled a photograph from her wallet.
It was a dance recital photograph – the kind any young girl who’s ever been in a dance recital takes. You know the dance pose that sums up the whole performance in the fanciest dance outfit of the season.
However, the person in the photograph wasn’t Couvillion’s much loved daughter, Kelly. It wasn’t her son Christopher either.
Nope, the person in the photograph was Simone Guillory, an architect in New Iberia.
“This is my friend, Simone. A few years ago, she started taking dance classes with her daughter. She didn’t have anything to do with her recital photos, and I didn’t have anything to do with all the school pictures taken of me as a teacher. We started exchanging photographs – and keeping them in our wallets.” Couvillion said, smiling. “Finding the humor in situations helps.”
After Couvillion’s divorce, Guillory – and her dancing – played a major role in Couvillion’s re-entry to the rest of the world.
“She would call me every week and ask me to go dance,” Couvillion said. “I didn’t want to dance. All I wanted to do was stay at home and clean out my garage.”
Even with deep Cajun Vermilion Parish roots, Couvillion said the dance floor was almost a foreign place to her.
“Before my divorce, I hated Cajun music,” she said. “I didn’t know how to Cajun two-step or zydeco.”
According to Couvillion, Guillory was relentless in her dancing demands. Eventually though, Couvillion would agree to go out dancing with Guillory nearly every weekend.
“We would go to Back to Back or Grant Street,” Couvillion remembered.
Whether deliberate or not, Guillory’s dance therapy worked. Couvillion ended up taking lessons and became an accomplished dancer. It was the other stuff that dancing brought into her life that helped to save her – including a new perspective, a reinvigorated sense of self and a wonderful man she met about ten years ago while dancing at Whiskey River.
“Now I can hang with the best of them on the dance floor, but sometimes I wonder if without Simone I would still be cleaning out my garage,” she said. “When I would dance, I would forget about the divorce and the sadness. I wouldn’t think about how I could stay in the house or ‘How will I pay for things?’ ”
She said the divorce led to personal growth she didn’t expect.
“Somehow I knew intuitively that I needed to be real good at being single before I got married again,” she said.
Although she realized the importance of love in the classroom long before the divorce changed her life, she believes her divorce also helped her to be a better teacher.
“I had this point where I knew that how I treated the kids was more important than any academic gift I could ever give them,” she said. “Once at the end of a school year, I asked my students, ‘What was the most important thing you learned this year?’ ”
She said she expected a variety of answers about the amazing science experiments they did, the quilt they made or the field trip they took.
One little girl raised her hand.
“It was that thing you told us every day, ‘Joy is a duty,’ ” the little girl said.