Cheering Me On Along The Way

I love recognizing people who inspire me. I want them to know that their actions helped me do something I would have likely otherwise never considered.

My sister, Annmarie, practiced Improv more than a decade ago. We are 16 months apart. She’s an excel document gal and I am a sketch pad gal. She’s precise and I can be messy. She’s like a decade old Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and I’m a Beaujolais. But I love her, admire her, and as her younger sister emulate her. Her willingness to learn Improv inspired me to take the class.

Mom holds Jennine's head as proud sister Annmarie holds her, and second sister Karen picks her nose.
Mom holds Jennine’s head as proud sister Annmarie holds her new sister; while, second sister Karen, with her filthy knees and feet, picks her nose.

I recently did a scene at Improv class where I pretended I was a pilot and told my soon to be ex-wife that we would not fly far, as I only had my VFR license (visual flight rules). Afterward, another classmate asked if I was a pilot and I said no, but my sister is.

“Miltary?” he asked.

“No, University of Illinois,” I responded.

The next scene started and I didn’t get to finish the story so I will now. I don’t think I wrote this before …

One night when we were in grammar school, Annmarie in 5th, me in 4th, Jennine in 2nd and Kevin and Brian in Kindergarten, we gathered around the table for dinner during which my Dad queried each of us about our future career plans.

“Rita and I are going to be stewardesses,” Annmarie said.

“Like hell you are,” my Dad said. “If you are going to be on an airplane, you’ll be flying it. It’s the same for a nurse. If you told me you wanted to be a nurse, I’d tell you to become the doctor. What’s stopping you? ”

Apparently, nothing. Annmarie accepted his direction. Seven years later she enrolled at the University of Illinois, where she learned how to be a pilot. When she started college she had flown, as a passenger, two or three times. She’s a commercial pilot today.

That discussion at the dinner table seems like it was yesterday. My father saw no ceilings for his daughters or sons. His wife who sat directly across the dinner table from him had a different trajectory. My mother’s choices post-highschool were limited to gender-specific roles: teacher, nun, nurse, secretary, or wife. She chose nun, during which she became a teacher and started teaching, when she left the convent she continued to teach, and then she married my father, became a wife and mother, and years and years later she did serve as a board secretary for not for profits she was active in and my father’s telecommunication business.

Both trajectories are important. My mom inspired us, and my father, too. Annmarie’s career could become a Gant chart, while my career resembles a scavenger hunt sketched out on a worn piece of paper, its ends frayed and brown. I’ve picked up nuggets of gold, precious gems, and a few stinkers along this circuitous route always just short of the end of the rainbow.

My sister’s life and mine, in truth, all of my siblings, intersect through inspiration. Our parents were our first teachers and gave us stellar examples of how to lead with confidence and humility. From our steadfast work ethic to our care, compassion, and empathy for our neighbors and greater community, my siblings and I have been inspired to give a damn, when we do give a damn we sure as hell better do our best, and for Christ’s sake be good persons while giving a damn.

I wrote about this the other day, what you put out in the world is destined to return. Inspiration slapped me in the face this morning when one of my usual early morning yoga suspects leaned over and said, “Karen inspired me.” She explained to our group that her recent commitment to journaling was spawned after I shared Table for One. Sitting down to focus on inspiration as the topic today, I recalled a few weeks ago, at Al-Anon, a friend said to me afterward, “You inspired me!” She then recalled my story about texting friends on Christmas Day and following my lead on a recent weekend when she knew she needed to surround herself with people who love her. “If Karen can do it, so can I,” she told me.

I was humbled. I am humbled. Can you think of a greater compliment? I can’t. My actions were so selfish in nature: I wanted to write because I needed to write, and I texted friends on Christmas Eve because I didn’t want to be alone. Sharing those two things, helped two other women move forward. What a gift our positive actions are, unbeknownst to ourselves.

I’ll talk to my sister this weekend and tell her again how much and often she has inspired me. I often let sibling rivalry get in the way of me vocalizing my admiration of her. And I’ll talk to my parents and tell them to. Especially because as parents, we don’t often get credit for the good stuff that we do. All the selfless acts, that if we knew in advance of all the responsibilities of a parent, we’d never have procreated. But we did it. And keeping our children moving forward is a huge task. I love that my parents instilled in each one of us the soundness of conviction to choose the best path, they supported our chosen path as best they were able, and when things went south they were the first to tell us to get back up again. They are a constant source of love and inspiration. I’m sure I’d be stuck in reverse had they not been cheering me on along the way.

And so that brings me to you. Each one of you, many faceless and nameless, thank you. I’m two thirds through my 90-day writing commitment. There have been many days, especially this month when I wanted to throw in the towel. But then I got out of my head and let my hands move across the keyboard until there was something to publish. Thank you for being my audience. I am humbled, grateful, and inspired by you. Namaste.

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