Many of my friends know that my first dog's name was Gartner. Many of those same friends, however, are likely unaware of the story behind that name. Gartner's namesake was not only memorialized in the naming of my pet; she was and is a part of me today and forever. Vi Gartner taught me what I believe to be one of the most important things in my life!
Vi was my dad's secretary and bookkeeper at Harris Equipment & Motors in Kenmare, North Dakota. On coffee breaks, while working during the summers, I would go to her office and we would visit. I connected with Vi. I can't explain it but we just had a connection. During my years of high school, we grew close and those coffee breaks often went long past the allotted 15 minutes - but hey, my parents owned the place, right?! I went off to college and returned to work at the shop in the summers. Vi and I didn't talk while I was away; we didn't write letters. And, of course, there was no email in the 1980's. But when I returned, we just picked right up where we left off. In March 1988, I returned home from college for spring break vacation and made it to the hospital just in time to say goodbye to Vi. I saw her in the morning and she died in the afternoon. I never told her I loved her. I never told her how incredibly she impacted and changed my life.
As the next couple years rolled along, I found myself still connected to Vi. She was with me - always and everywhere. I felt her presence and thought of her at the most random of times. We were still connected! After Vi passed away, I came out to several friends at school. It would be two years before I came out to my family but I wouldn't wait that long to tell Vi. She was, in my own mind, the first person to whom I came out. I recall the day sitting at her grave just chatting away. I told her. And she still loved me. She didn't just love me because I wanted her to love me. I KNEW she would still love me. That's who she was. No judgment. Just pure love and acceptance.
So here's the valuable lesson that I have taken with me: We all have an amazing ability to touch people's lives every, single day … and we don't know it!! The last part is the amazing part -- we don't know it!! Vi never knew how much she would change my life. She never knew! Vi taught me this. She continues to be a part of who I am; and so she continues to live.
For 25 years, I have been blessed to carry with me this amazingly, gorgeous, beautiful soul named Vi. And now, Vi is here reminding me again what is important in THIS moment.
A couple weeks ago, my aunt Sharon came to Fargo to see her son and daughter-in-law. Since Sharon doesn't come to Fargo often (and since I hadn't seen her in awhile), I invited my entire family over on that Sunday night to sit around a fire and reconnect. When Sharon got here, we started chatting and she, inevitably, asked how work was. I rattled off something about the state of the real estate market and said that we were busy but could always use more buyers or sellers. A little while later, she asked for a tour of my home as she had never been. I obliged and when we got to my bedroom, she asked about the huge post-it poster note on my wall. I began to explain that this poster was written by Marci Shimoff, the New York Times best-selling author of the book Happy For No Reason. A few months ago, I explained, I attended a three day seminar in Fairfield, Iowa with the intention of learning how to write a successful book about the joys of cancer. I stood there, in front of Sharon, passionately explaining what the poster meant and how I intended on translating all this into a book that will, ultimately, be published.
Boom! Epiphany! This is my passion! I like real estate and I really do love working with my clients. But this book is my passion. This excites me. I need to tell these stories. I have been "should-ing" my life away for a few months now. I "should" do this and I "should" do that … Vi showed up in that moment and reminded me that I need to follow my passion. You see, the stories I want to tell are all about people who changed my life during my cancer journeys - and these people don't know it.
So what does my aunt have to do with Vi? My aunt, Sharon Harris, is Vi's daughter! In that moment, during that epiphany, Vi was again present. This time, she was present through her daughter. Once again, she is there. She continues to impact my life. You, too, have this power. Vi is a reminder of who each and every one of us can be. She is challenging me to write these stories. I'm challenging you to go out in the world with the knowledge that you are powerful and CAN change lives -- each and every day!
While this might be the beginning today, the beginning really started over 25 years ago!