NPR Staff

In 2012, Ian Thorson was found dead in a cave in Arizona. He and his wife had been kicked out of a silent Buddhist retreat that was supposed to last three years, but they decided to finish out the time alone in the desert — and that extreme quest for spiritual enlightenment eventually killed him.

As part of a series called "My Big Break," All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

David Zayas used to dream of being an actor. And he made it: he played Enrique Morales, the infamous inmate on HBO's Oz, as well as his most notable role, Sergeant Angel Batista on the Showtime drama Dexter.

Writer Huan Hsu's great-great-grandfather Liu Feng Shu was a scholar in China's Qing dynasty during the late 1800s and early 1900s. As a patron of the arts, he built up an immense porcelain collection.

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese landed near his village on the Yangtze River. As the army approached, Liu and one of his workmen dug a giant hole in their garden, to keep the collection safe.

Afghanistan's leaders were in Washington last week asking for more assistance from the U.S. They got what they wanted: President Obama announced he would postpone the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops this year. Those forces are needed to help Afghanistan troops battle the Taliban as the spring
fighting season heats up.

President Ashraf Ghani was accompanied on this trip by Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive of the Afghan government. They were bitter rivals in Afghanistan's presidential election last year and are now sharing power in a unity government.

Tony award-winning actress Sutton Foster just turned 40, but in the TV Land show Younger she gets to be 26 again. Foster plays Liza, a middle-aged woman who needs to get back into the job market. The last time Liza applied for jobs, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram didn't exist. Now, she's convinced that no one wants to hire someone her age. So she moves to Brooklyn, gets a few highlights, learns how to tweet, and applies for a job as an assistant to a fancy New York publisher.

About 25 years ago, John Bovery started a modest football pool out of his home in New Jersey. It had 57 participants, all friends and co-workers.

But thanks to word of mouth — and the multiplying factor of email — Bovery's pool grew to staggering proportions. At one point, it got too large for Bovery to handle himself, so he contacted a software company to custom-build something suited to his needs.

By 2009, it included more than 8,000 entries from people around the globe, with a total payout of more than $800,000.

When writer Kirstin Valdez Quade talks about her New Mexican roots, it's not just her own childhood, growing up in the region, that she means — it's a connection much deeper than that.

"My family has been in northern New Mexico for hundreds of years," she tells NPR's Arun Rath. "My family's presence can be traced back to 1695 and some of the earliest conquistadors. So there's a long family history in the region."

Maddie Hyde is a Sara Gruen heroine. She's bold, she's warm, and she's been cast out of Philadelphia polite society — in this case the family of her husband Ellis, who is 4F in the middle of World War II. To avoid the glares and scowls, and to earn their own way in the world after being cut off from a family fortune, they cross the Atlantic during a high tide of submarine warfare to try to burnish their family name by hunting down an older kind of monster in a Scottish village.

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