Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.   ~ Kahlil Gibran

Last fall, I took a plunge and brought a third dog into my house. I wasn’t puppy shopping at the time. I was really nervous about adding another set of paws to the 12 already living in my small home. The circumstances seemed right, though. Her family loved her and hated to let her go but they wanted a stable place for her. Her “mom” (my friend Lorrie) had died about 6 months prior and her “dad” (my friend John) needed to be able to travel for his job and wasn’t able to care for her.

We decided after numerous conversations that Kiara would become part of the herd here and with the friendship that had formed between her family and me, she could still see her people regularly. It was a great arrangement. She got to be in one place and her dad didn’t have to worry about kenneling her or finding her a dog sitter when he was out of town for work.

I can’t say it wasn’t a difficult start. During the first week that Ki moved in, her dad came over to see how she was adjusting. He had a glass of wine with me and she sat by his feet in this new, strange environment with its extra critters. The next day, every time I walked through the living room, I found her sitting beside the recliner where her dad had sat, with her chin on the armrest. It was so sweet and so loyal, it brought tears to my eyes.

Kiara spent the winter bonding with Chip and chasing the cat around the first floor, poking at him with one pointy paw when he’d let her get close. Mylo was a bit more reserved about having a newcomer and on the night of her arrival, took one look and promptly nipped her on the snout to let her know who was alpha. Kiara got the message. It was Mylo’s house. I don’t think Ki really cared all that much.

I’ve known before now that dogs have a sense of humor but I saw it surface in ways I hadn’t seen with other critters. Kiara played tricks on Chip. She would wait until all dog bowls had hit the floor filled with kibble with the little tablespoon of wet food on top to make it interesting. She’d wait just a bit longer until Chip was engrossed in his breakfast, then she’d run across the room at him, barking at the top of her canine lungs. Chip, rocket scientist that he is (how do I keep ending up with these super sweet, not too bright male dogs?), would fall over himself down the stairs toward the back door, bellowing his warning bark, then standing guard there against absolutely nothing, puffed up to about four times his normal size. He clearly didn’t know WHAT was happening, but SOMETHING was happening and he was going to stop it, by golly!  Kiara would casually swipe the wet dog food off the top of his bowl and go trotting back to her place in the dining room as if nothing had happened. Laughing. I KNEW she was laughing.

The best part of it for her –and maybe the funniest part—was that Chip fell for it not just once or twice. She pulled the Chip-alarm every day for weeks. I finally had to intervene and put a gate up so the poor guy could eat his kibble in peace, without being blown up into the unfortunate dog in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. I could almost hear her saying to Seamus, “Hey, Cat, watch THIS!”

Kiara was the early riser in the family. She could be tempted to hit the snooze button once in a while if I loudly told her, “No bark!” but her response to that was to climb onto the end of the bed with her pointy legs, sigh, and fidget, while kicking me, until I got up. She had strong opinions about these things.

I think it is safe to say that this was one of the best decisions I ever made. She got it all. She got a house and a yard to romp in, and two new buddies to play with, and her dad could do his job and not have to worry about her and she got to see her other people frequently, which always brought happy sounds and a certain dance with those long, skinny legs. Last week, I needed someone to watch her for a few days so she went for the whole week with one of her people who loves her most in the world.

Kiara came home from her trip last Sunday, ready to romp with the other dogs and resume telling me what time to get up each morning. On Wednesday, we started our day as all days start—with a romp in the yard before kibble, then a walk to sniff around the street and see who’s doing what. We’d gotten only two houses away. She lagged behind to sniff the fire hydrant and the tree and I called her to step up the pace.

We didn’t get any further. Ki collapsed on the driveway, maybe 60 feet from our house. I heard it before I saw it. Bony dog elbows thumping concrete is unmistakable. It was quick. I don’t think she suffered. The vet said it was a sudden onset cardiac issue. There’s no warning, no sign of a problem, so the first time it makes itself known, it’s typically fatal.

My biggest regret is that when she collapsed, I was unable to lift her, to hold her, as she died. She’d gone to visit her person the week before because I had surgery on my shoulder and one week post-surgery, picking her up from a flat-out position on concrete was not a possibility.

I yelled for my neighbor to come help and he rushed outside to see what was wrong. His voice broke as he scooped her up and held her gently, telling her that she would be okay, to just hold on, that we were going to get her help. He talked to her the entire time we were driving to the vet office. “Hold on, baby. We’re almost there.”

She was gone before we arrived at the clinic. I’m not even sure that she was still with us when we got into the car. If she was, she died on his lap in my car. My neighbor, Scott, stood on the sidewalk of the vet hospital with me as we cried on each other’s shoulders and the techs carried her inside.

It is not lost on me that my friend Kiara got to spend a whole week with her person before she left us. Nor is it lost on me that her last morning consisted of a romp with Chip and Mylo, and kibble with her favorite wet food on top, and a walk with a fire hydrant and a tree to sniff. When time stopped for her, she was not alone. She was held and loved—some even by a man who didn’t know her well, but who treated her with the utmost kindness in her last moments.

It is difficult to lose a furry family member. But the focus of these last couple of days has been far more about what she gave us during her months with us and what her family and I were able to do for her to make her last year wonderful.

It is also not lost on me that in a scalding second of I NEED SOMETHING RIGHT NOW, my neighbor Scott appeared by my side and helped me escort that sweet pup across the Rainbow Bridge. I don’t know what he was in the middle of doing when I yelled for him. He dropped whatever it was, and he was right there for me, and for her, through the end.

No regrets otherwise. This is what I offered to do when I agreed to bring her home. In return, I got a year with a very cool, smart, funny dog. I shared her with a very cool, smart, funny family and we got to do something really special for her.

In her last moments, I got to see the absolute best of a person who opened his arms and his heart to help me do one final thing for her. There are times when kindness cannot be repaid. It can only be paid forward. I think this may be one of those times.

Happy trails, Kiara. The gate is open, sweet girl. Run as fast as you want!

Scott, I will never be able to thank you enough.

Kiara beds


This weekend, I spent $27 on making a bucket list item come true. It’ll probably be the only bucket list item I can do for $27 and that’s okay. It’s also two years behind schedule, but when it happened, it happened so good, I cannot complain.

I established many blog posts back that I am not athletically inclined. I don’t find it difficult to organize my life or my thoughts around that idea. I do things with this body that entertain me, like the occasional racquetball game or the occasional bike ride, but I’ve said it outright before—I’m no one’s idea of a jock.  Never have been.  In fact, I’ve joked about my “concerns” that the Lesbian Association of the Midwest (LAM, for short) would eventually figure out just how much not a jock I am and revoke my Lesbian in Good Standing status.  And where would I be then?

Oh yes…of course…I’d probably be standing in my lawn in my moose slippers and flannel shirt while watching Spike, the tow truck driver from LAM, back down my driveway, run a big hook through my LAM membership card, and cart it away.

But I digress. Y’all are probably used to that by now.

So this weekend….I did it. I took my non-jock, almost 52 year-old pudgy self and registered for a long distance bike ride with the local Kiwanis Club. None of my friends could sign up with me, so I signed up just as me. Maybe I’d run into some folks I knew once things got under way. Going alone was not about to stop me.

If you’ve checked out some of my earlier posts, you know that I’m not the most confident person in the world about my low level athletic ability. I find it kind of funny. You also know that over many years, I have (as many of us have) tolerated critical, often outright nasty, comments about my weight from significant people in my life…which I think tends to make all of us a bit shy about participating in athletic events. I don’t think that’s unique to me at all. If you hear often enough how fat and awkward you are, or bluntly if you’re called a “fat, useless fuck” or any version thereof often enough, it takes a toll on how you operate the body you’ve been put in charge of this time around.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this venture. I wasn’t even sure how I’d start when I first got the idea a couple of years ago. Where does one even FIND cycling shorts when one believes that one’s ass needs its own zip code? Check the stores. You’ll find lots of Smalls, the occasional Mediums, a rogue Large and the miraculous XL…which looks to be about a size 6 when I hold it up against myself. No offense, designers, I just haven’t been that small since I was in grade school.

As an aside—athletic clothing companies, take notice!  There are lots of us out here who could and would be more active! Being able to find appropriate clothing in the right size would be most helpful! After a tip from a good friend about Aerotech Designs, I figured it out and started to practice.

I’d love to say that if I did this every day, I’d fit into something that appears to be a size 6. But reality check…when I look at everyone else in my family…we are not slender beings. My siblings, my cousins, my nephews…If you’ve seen one of us, you’ve seen all of us. We are solid Irish stock.  I’m low to the ground and sturdy. There’s probably a step-stool somewhere in my lineage that no one is talking about.

As part of the Turning 50 Bucket List, this was a little harder to come by than some other things I want to do. During the summer that I turned 50, I bought a new bike to get ready to do this event and on my first ride, I ruptured my ACL and tore up a bunch of other things that one needs inside of a knee and spent most of the summer, including my 50th birthday, crashed out on the couch unable to walk. I signed up again last summer, one week before my 51st birthday, thinking it would still count. I was still 50, after all. I woke up that morning to a major thunderstorm and all cyclists were held at the registration site. The downpour continued all morning. Only the serious cyclists with their foul weather gear attempted to go.  I was not one of them.  I put on my sad face, collected my bucket list at the door and went back home.

So this was the year to make it happen!  Once underway, I had no idea what to expect. The roads were different than the rails-to-trail path I normally ride. It wasn’t as busy as I thought it might be, so there were long stretches where I was the sole rider on a road—no one else in sight. That was okay. It was quiet.

There was one moment of hesitation when I faced the sign that said 23 Mile Riders turn right, 46 Mile Riders turn left. I almost turned right. I could do the 23 miles and then just SAY I did the 46 I signed up for. No one else was out there with me, so who would know?

But this was BUCKET LIST. This was meant to be a challenge for my almost 52 year old, pudgy self.  I turned left. Not long after that left turn, I found myself pondering the mother dying at 47. She never saw age 52. I was seeing age 52 on a bike on a country road, feeling  my quads burn on hills and the pain at the base of my skull from being hit by a car a few months ago.  The mother is probably the one person in my family who might have qualified as skinny…but I think the technical term is “wasted”. She was thin when she was dying. I pictured myself, low to the ground and sturdy, and I kept pedaling.

I wondered if there would be any negative reaction to me being out there. I noticed very early in that I didn’t look like anyone else I ran into. But everyone was friendly. Everyone asked how it was going and if I was having a good ride. I also noticed after I made that left turn that everyone I ran into had a really nice bike and they were serious about this shit. They blew by me on hills, muscles bulging, greeting me with a sideways “Hey!” or “All good?” as I plodded on. That stood out for me. Here were these folks who were serious about this sport, all checking in, holding up thumbs to make sure I’d respond that I was okay, asking if I needed anything.  As a friend described last year, I was moving like a turtle stampeding through peanut butter. Did I need anything? Just time, kids! I need some extra time to make this happen!

Somewhere around mile 30, alone on a road lined by cornfields, I started to sing out loud.  “Just what makes that little old ant…think he can move a rubber tree plant…anyone knows an ant can’t…move a rubber tree plant…But he’s got hiiiiiigh hopes…he’s got hiiiigh hopes…he’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes….”

That was when the SAG vehicle pulled up alongside me. I’m guessing that some farmer called in a report of a free range boi biking down his road singing about ants and the Kiwanis said, “Oh, that one is probably ours!” and dispatched the support team.  They were very nice, my new friends in the support vehicle. They paced me for maybe half a mile, and I stopped singing immediately (not wanting to hurt them), and they eventually decided I had not truly departed from reality and went about their business.

At the rest stop at mile 32, I pulled up on my little Trek hybrid among road bikes that cost thousands of dollars and people wearing race shirts. Don’t get me wrong—I have a perfectly nice bike. For me. For the things I do. I was in a different world at that moment. I was the only recreational rider in the group. Okay. Set brain to setting:  Prepare for negative comments!

The last 8 miles were mostly into the wind. On hills. When big gusts would come along, I was forced to downshift even more than usual and could barely maintain 5 mph. The big kids on their many thousand dollar bikes swept by me like I was driving a Big Wheel and the sideways comments continued.  “You good?”  “You’re almost there!” “You can do this!”

I can do this, dammit!

At one point, I struggled to get up to 7 mph and the raw spots on my leg burned and I almost started to cry, wondering what the hell I had done this for.  I seriously considered calling the SAG vehicle to pick me up and take me in. Then I’d hit a stretch of downhill and gain a little speed and I’d be determined all over again to ride into that final stop under my own power, even if it was only at 7 mph.

Those last few miles took over an hour. I stopped to stretch out a cramp as I got back into the city limits and a nice woman in a car pulled over to ask if I had hurt myself and did I need any help. Thanking her, I got back on my bike, appreciating my burning raw spots and melted spikes and my pudgy, not athletically inclined- self and I pedaled to the destination spot.

I am no one’s idea of a jock. Oddly, despite all of that effort yesterday, I woke up this morning still pudgy and still low to the ground. But last night…oh…last night I fell asleep thinking, “I did it. I really did it,” and wanting to dream of buckets.

Come and git me, Spike. I dare ya!



Are you ready? It’s Tuesday. Let’s do some myth busting just for fun. In my Facebook feed this morning, just in the first couple of minutes that I was looking, I saw articles on poor people, and working people, and poor people who work but can’t afford basic needs, and homeless people. Oh yeah, and comments about health insurance and who should have what and the inevitable comments from people who are tired of supporting health insurance for other people. Don’t forget those.

If I’m completely honest, it wasn’t a pleasant way to wake up this morning. Then beyond finding it irritating, it actually made me angry.

Yes, by all means, let’s talk about poor people and poor people who work and people who are homeless and what they all deserve. Here’s my angle on this, for anyone reading who has not met me in person. I’m probably as middle class as it gets. I have a great job that I love. I’m a home owner. I have some dogs that are very opinionated at all the wrong times of day. I have a master’s degree, I am involved in my community, and I’m nice to older people, little kids and puppies.

All of those things are true.

You know what else is true? I’ve been homeless. I’ve been poor. And I’ve been uninsured.

And are you ready for THIS? Here’s where it gets REALLY crazy.  I was working when it happened!

I know. I know.  Take a minute. You may have to percolate on that a bit. I didn’t become homeless because I did something “wrong”. I wasn’t trying to scam the system and get something for nothing. It didn’t ever occur to me to ask. The simple fact is that I became homeless…lacking in a permanent domicile…when my remaining parent died and the house I grew up in got put up for sale.

That’s all it took. It wasn’t a long, slippery slope of mistakes or accidents or bad judgment calls. It wasn’t bankruptcy brought on by medical bills that I couldn’t afford, although that happens all too often. It wasn’t unemployment, although a lot of folks are only a couple of missed paychecks away from becoming housing vulnerable or homeless. There was nothing about it that could be judged the way we tend to judge people who are homeless. I was 17 years old. I was suddenly and unexpectedly without a parent, then suddenly and unexpectedly without a home. Oh…the job? Yes, I still had the job. It was 1982 and I was making near minimum wage, flipping burgers in fast food. I earned $3.25 an hour. At the highest point in that job, I made an entire $3.65 an hour.

A few of my family members stepped up to help. I stayed for a while with a cousin. Then I stayed for a while with Marie, the father’s long-term significant other. Then I couch surfed with a friend. Occasionally, I told Marie I was with the friend and I told the friend I was at Marie’s and then I just slept in my car because I was so afraid to be a drain on either of them.  Then I stayed for a while with my sister. Then I went away to college on grants that my sister helped me apply for, because at $3.25 an hour, it would have been tough to pay for on my own.

In the space of ten months, I lived in six different places with four different family configurations, while attempting to cope with the father’s death and other circumstances of my family of origin. There’s also nothing in there to be judged. My family tried to help as best they could. There was nothing anyone could do that would have resurrected my dead parents so that I could go home.

You want to know the funny part? I was 27 before I realized that I had been homeless. That never occurred to me either. How could I have been homeless? I stayed with people. I had a car. I had a job. That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard! Of course, I wasn’t homeless.

Working at The Salvation Army Women’s Shelter in Syracuse, I heard the HUD definition of homeless for the first time. I worked in a homeless shelter. Go figure!  No great mystery THERE.  Anyway, hearing that concept sent me into a tailspin. In the language of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, I was a category within a category. I was an Unaccompanied Child within the larger category of being homeless.

Unaccompanied Children are people who are not part of a family or in a multi-child household during their episode of homelessness, and who are under the age of 18.   ~HUD definition of terms (https://www.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/2014-AHAR-Part1.pdf)

At 27, I had to reorganize myself around this. I had been…homeless…by all of the definitions that HUD offered. Having a job hadn’t mattered. I worked 39 hours a week from the time I turned 16, which was as many hours as I could legally take on without being called a full time employee. I worked those hours through my junior and senior years of high school, on the honor roll for most of that time. I did it the entire time I would have been considered homeless. In other words, I worked my ass off. And I had to take into consideration that I could have been viewed as a term a former supervisor taught me (and also taught me to fight against)—I was one of the “deserving poor” who had become homeless through no fault of my own, simply through a series of occurrences over which I had little or no control.

So here I sit these days, reading my Facebook feed and headline news and political comments about poor people and homeless people and I reflect on my home ownership and my master’s degree and I have to reconcile that every day that I am one of those people. I am one of those people that folks rail against, and not just because I ultimately became a social worker. I was one of THOSE. I was OTHER.

I am no longer homeless. I haven’t been in a long time. But a very smart person observed to me not long ago that we are always all of the ages that we have ever been. Don’t you love that idea? In a way, I guess that means I’ll always have a little part of me that is 17 and just trying to graduate from my high school, washing my school uniform shirt with a load of towels at work so it would be clean for the next day and waking up stiff and cold in my car in my employer’s parking lot.

If you haven’t had a chance to try it, I highly recommend that before you decide what anyone needs or deserves, that you sleep for a few cool, damp, spring nights behind the wheel in a 1973 Pinto in a fast food parking lot. Then come back to me and we’ll discuss poverty and what people who are poor and/or homeless deserve. The catch is, though, that if you have somewhere else you CAN go, it doesn’t really count.

People who are poor don’t look a certain way. People who are homeless don’t look a certain way. And they don’t need to look like what we THINK they need to look like to be the “deserving poor”. I looked like a 17 year old kid with a bad haircut and a Catholic school uniform. No one would have picked me out of a crowd. I went to school—and to work—day after day and no one knew.

People who are poor and people who are homeless aren’t all out there looking for a free ride and planning to stay on what scraps we deign to offer them as support benefits for the rest of their lives. Sometimes, we need a break. Sometimes we need a hand. I happened to get both. Sometimes we just need someone to be frickin’ kind to us. I got that too. Now I can’t help but wonder how much of my getting those things had to do with the fact that I was a white kid in a Catholic school uniform. One does have to ponder THAT question.

I grew up to be an executive director. Good stuff can happen for people who are poor and people who are homeless when they get A) a break and B) a hand and C) a little frickin’ kindness. So, for the folks sounding off in Facebook feeds and political posts about “the poor” and “the homeless” and “the needy”, seriously…until you’ve walked a mile in my sneakers, or slept on that park bench, or driven a few miles in my Pinto, as it were, I just can’t put a lot of stock into anything you’re carrying on about over what people need and deserve. Stop adding to the myths and misinformation out there and go find your bench.

Dedicated to the supervisor who taught me that there’s no such thing as the “deserving poor.”  Thank you, Liz.





A Group Effort

Posted: May 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

I’m seeing lots of comments about Mother’s Day approaching, and it may inspire another blog post later this week, but for right now, I was inspired to share an older post about all the women who helped me become me, even when there was no Mom-of-a-sort left.

Urban Tidepool

The title of Hillary Clinton’s book, It Takes  a Village, has always appealed to me.   I imagined using a take-off on that title if I were ever to write a memoir. (Little did I know!) Given some of my Catholic school adventures after the parents crossed over while I was running around the world as a 17 year old on my own, I figured if I went with something along the lines of It Takes  a Village to Raise a Child, but It Only Takes One of Me to Raze an Entire Village, we’d be somewhere close to the truth.

It’s true…I come up a bit short handed in the parent arena. Handling that as a kid required some amount of creativity and resourcefulness and I got rather skilled at negotiating around that spot where a mom-of-a-sort was supposed to be. It was an early understanding of family…

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The Bonds We Forge

Posted: April 26, 2017 in Blog
Tags: , , , , ,
Ahem. Me-me-me-me-me. Ahem.
“People let me tell you ’bout my best friend…”
Yyyeaah, lemme tell you about my buddy Zach. He once ate an entire box of dry Cream of Wheat. I wouldn’t let him drink anything because I was afraid he’d blow up. During his awkward teenaged years, he got tangled in my feet on the stairs and knocked me down, breaking my tailbone. He thought it was great fun when we landed on the floor at the bottom of the steps in a heap and he jumped away and jumped back as if to say, “Hey, let’s do that again!” I had to sit on an orthopedic doughnut for about three months. (Ok, occasionally I did wear it on my head. There are photos. Don’t ask.) He once raided the luggage of a house guest and ate her Welbutrin. He slept for three days. I had to wake him up to take him out to pee. He once chased my pet rabbit around the basement in a circle, faster and faster, until the bunny went running up the ramp into his cage, and Zach followed, getting his head and shoulders stuffed through the door before coming to a screeching halt, nose to nose with said bunny and wedged so tightly that neither one of them could move. I was surprised Smudge didn’t have a heart attack.
This guy was smart like a box of rocks. Whenever I called the vet with his latest adventure, I had to wait for him to stop laughing before he could answer my question.
I thought I would lose my mind before he was two.
Then came the days following my brother’s death when I could barely get through a day without breaking down. Zach would climb up on the couch beside me and drape his giant orange head over mine and just breathe with me for hours and I listened to his heart beat until those days passed. Apparently dogs know how to hold space.
Good boy, Zacharoo. Good boy.
“People let me tell you ’bout my best friend…”
Zach was with me until two weeks shy of his 15th birthday, an impressive feat for a 100 lb Golden Retriever. On his last morning, we celebrated with Frosty Paws and a visit to his favorite fire hydrant and a nap on his blanket in the yard with the sun shining. When he took the shot, I held his head in my hands and breathed with him, wanting him to know I was right there, just as he had been for me. That was this morning, a warm April day in 2006.
Sometimes I think I can still hear his heartbeat.
Zach and me

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”    ~Maya Angelou

I’ve done a lot of reading and attended some trainings over this winter on the topic of trauma and trauma informed care and here’s what I have learned so far. When someone is in the middle of a meltdown, the thinking part of their brain stops working. No lie. The science is there. Kids, teenagers, all of us. It just stops. Decision making skills? Out the window. Language? Gone. Nothing above the brain mid-line is in gear–only the parts that can feel and act—or react.

This new learning caused me to notice the questions that we ask of people at those times. I’ve done it in my job over the years. “How can I help you?” ‘What do you need?” The questions are innocent, an outpouring of our desire to support and assist people we care about. They can’t engage in those questions with us, though. Their brain has turned off. They can’t answer a question like “What do you need” when they can’t access the upper part of their brain where language lives. We are asking them to do something with us that they are literally unable to do.

I am reminded of a Ram Dass book one of my graduate school instructors shared with us that talked about the helplessness of the helping professional. That book was written before we even knew any of the neuroscience that is driving our understanding today. Back then, it just resonated with me that sometimes the most important thing you could do with someone in crisis was to honor them by witnessing their pain. Just be with them. I have carried that message throughout my career.

Working with LGBT youth, sometimes the most important thing we can do is to honor them by witnessing their pain. We, as the agency staff, have no access to their family home. We have limited access to their school, and then only by invitation. We meet kids in tremendous pain who are being verbally and physically harassed, assaulted, threatened…kids are dealing with trauma on a frequent basis.

Neuroscience is also telling us now that people who experience trauma in childhood (abuse, neglect, parental mental illness or addiction, sexual assault, witnessing domestic violence, natural disasters, and a few others) develop cognitively in a different way than do people who do not experience trauma. The more trauma, the more different the brain and the more likely for health and mental implications in adulthood. The science is fascinating. Take a look at a quick, easy and interesting overview by Dr. Nadine Harris Burke. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk&t=577s

I wouldn’t have to scan the brains of some of the LGBT kids we work with to know that there are some differences in development going on there. We know there’s been an uptick in harassment and assault in the last couple of years (https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/GLSEN%202015%20National%20School%20Climate%20Survey%20%28NSCS%29%20-%20Executive%20Summary.pdf). We know there’s been, at best, benign neglect of their needs, and, at worst, open hostility toward LGBT students, especially trans students.  We also already know that LGBT youth make up between 20% and 40% of the kids who are homeless and on the streets every year, particularly high on the T, most particularly on trans youth of color. Newer research tells us that LGBT kids also comprise about 20% of youth who are incarcerated.  (Should we place bets on how many of those kids were homeless before they were locked up?)

Those are some mindblowing stats when you take into account that we make up…what….maybe 10% of the general population? Conservative stats say 5%, but let’s be generous and say 10% for the hell of it.

Now let’s add one more twist. Where’s my bugle? This information should come with a bugle blaring to announce its arrival. According to Dr. Caitlin Ryan, researcher at The Family Acceptance Project, and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the leading trauma experts in the world, all is takes is one person.

You read that right. All it takes is ONE person who hears, one person who witnesses, one person who honors and believes to begin to relieve some of the effect of that trauma. That’s one school counselor. One school nurse. One social worker in individual session. One mom. One brother. One neighbor. One volunteer at Youth Outlook or Big Brother/Big Sister. One person who is safe and trustworthy and respectful can provide an opportunity for rewiring a brain that has been traumatized. One person can be the protective factor that stops a desperate kid from making an attempt on their own life.

Wow. Think about the power you have to affect a kid’s life. Not just their life right now, but if you listened to Dr. Burke’s TED talk, you know it’s the power to affect a kid’s life throughout the life span. It’s not about the question at that moment of crisis: “What do you need?”  or “How can I help?” Remember, in meltdown mode, none of us can actually process that question.

Thirty years into this, although I see what Ram Dass meant, I don’t know that I would limit my description of this as helplessness when we watch someone hurt. It has honor. It has meaning. True enough, we may not be able to stop it from happening, but being there with someone while he/she/they hurt, holding space for them to have their experience safely, has the potential to change cognitive wiring. We can get to those pesky questions later. First, we just have to be. We are amazing critters—both what we are as individuals and what we have the ability to do for one another.

Yes, Dr. Angelou. I agree. When we know better, we do better.

Childhood Trauma Family Courts - 2015

I met one of my favorite people when she was just finishing up chemo for breast cancer. She was interested in volunteering at the agency where I work, and we met to talk about the jobs that volunteers were doing and the time commitment that might be involved.

I’ve mentioned this before in other blog posts. Some people throw light. It’s a warm, peaceful feeling to be in the presence of that light. My new friend Lorrie threw light like that. She led with it. I noticed it the first time we sat together over coffee, talking about LGBT kids. She was magnetic.

When she asked if it would make a difference to the kids that she came to a drop-in center wearing a headscarf, I told her I thought the kids would place more value on the fact that she was showing up to be supportive of them—they were not likely to judge the fact that she’d lost her hair to chemo. She took her scarf off then and the fact that she’d lost her hair dimmed when compared to the animation and luminosity in her eyes.

Lorrie decided she would sit through our volunteer training, a process that requires 24 hours over three Saturdays. It’s a big time demand. While I hope that folks who attend will learn something from the staff or the youth leaders or me, it was during that training that I learned that ANY statement coming from Lorrie starting with, “Oh, Nancy!” meant that filters were off and there was no predicting what I was about to hear.

On the third day of training, I’d left a basket of fidget toys out for the attendees to hand around. It was the usual training fidget toys—stress balls, Play Doh, stuffed bears, Nerf balls, etc. Lorrie set the tone for the next several years of our friendship at that moment.

“Oh Nancy!”

I looked up from a pile of handouts I was organizing on the front table, as a stress ball made its way down the line of new recruits and landed at Lorrie’s seat. She had the ball in one hand and the most incredible twinkle in her eyes that I’d ever seen.

“Nancy!” she repeated.  “This feels just like my new boobs will feel!” She immediately turned to the man next to her and extended the stress ball, laughing. “Here! Feel this!”

I was momentarily speechless, then washed over with a wave of her light and an irresistible urge to giggle. The man who sat next to her looked surprised (although by Day 3, it’s hard to say why either of us would have been) and declined, but he started to giggle too. Then the person on the other side of her started. Then the rest of the attendees joined in.

It occurred to me that we were laughing, however briefly, in the face of cancer.

Maybe chemo should come with capes, not headscarves. I learned a lot about life force and joy from a superhero who kicked cancer’s ass twice in the time that I knew her. During the third bout, when chemo stole her hair again, she shaved her head and sent me a selfie, commenting that she thought it appropriate to share, since this was where she was when I met her, too. Like that years ago night over coffee, it is not her uncovered head that stands out in the photo. It is her eyes—bright and mischievous and daring. She was laughing, irrepressible.  It is truly Lorrie, open, vulnerable, ready for a challenge, unbeatable. Of all of the photos I keep of my friends, it’s probably the most beautiful photo I have.

She brought incomparable gifts to my job and to my life. I wrote about the impact she had on our youth group members when we honored her at the agency gala a few years ago. Over coffee at Caribou, over pizza at Lou Malnati’s, during staff meetings and retreats, from hammering out details of a grant that funded her position through me pestering her for program reports and curriculum details, to developing our pilot program for first- and second-graders, to a serendipitous vacation when we both ended up in Paris, she was a creative force. She was one of my go-to people at first, someone whose input I trusted and whose expertise in her field gave her unique perspective on our new projects. In time, she was simply my friend, one of very few people who knew how writing Urban Tidepool had affected me and with what I was struggling, including processing my pending divorce and the fall out of the people I thought of as my friends.

Lorrie Paris

We lost Lorrie just a little over a year ago. Today is her birthday. It has been an odd year of our Youth Outlook team grieving, of kids and former kids grieving, of our book group grieving, of individuals noting softly in non-sequitur, “I miss Lorrie…”  while we engaged in the day to day activities of which she used to be a part. It has been a year of making space for the folks who needed to say, “I miss Lorrie…” and then coming home and crying alone in my garden or on a walk with one of the dogs because I miss Lorrie too.

The program she developed is going strong. The “talking ball” that she would take home from time to time to wash and return is still in the fidget basket. The stress ball that started years of laughter may still be in the bottom of that basket, too. In staff meetings and trainings, we still refer to “Lorrie nights”. I can’t walk into Lou Malnati’s or pick up coffee from Caribou without thinking about her. Maybe she actually kicked cancer’s ass a third time, because she’s certainly still with us, throwing light and prompting giggles with irreverent comments.


If you work in social services, you know how it goes—if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.  This happened. So I’m documenting it. I met a superhero who was having chemo. She was irreverent and sarcastic and funny as hell. And bald. She was my friend. She was my person. I watched her change people’s lives. Sometimes I got to help. Other times, I just bugged her for paperwork about it. She kicked cancer’s ass twice and left a legend. She really should have had a cape.

I will tell you clearly and not as a non-sequitur. I miss Lorrie.

Happy birthday, my friend.