I've had two real mentors in my life...both women that I met through work at GSD&M in Austin. And when I am talking about a mentor, I truly mean someone that isn't family or friend, that takes an interest in you, coaches you, has your back, and pushes you to become a better version of yourself based on the experiences they've had and their ability to see your situation from a distant, yet invested, viewpoint.
My first mentor was named Maureen Barry. And she was my boss's boss's boss when I was just starting out- I was probably 24/25. But she thought I was smart and funny and she gave me many more opportunities than I should have had at the time.
There was another younger gal on my team, and the two of us were pretty squeamish at the time about trying unusual, or even just new-to-us, food. Between that and the fact that she was always introducing us to phrases like "Reading the tea leaves" or "Soup to Nuts" we got quite a kick out of each other. She was married to a woman named Kate, who also worked at GSD&M, and so the six of us would go on foodie outings to try new foods together. We tried Ethiopian, we tried Greek, we did French, German, Indian, etc. And while yes, we tried many foods together, it was less the food and more the conversation that always made it so eye opening and enjoyable. Picture two young couples, boy/girl, 24-26 years old, and a lesbian couple in their late 40s, gallivanting around town together. We had such a good time. Perhaps the best times were when Maureen and Kate would have us over for drinks before we went out to dinner. We laughed, we listened to music, we tried new drinks, we smiled.
Kate and Maureen threw us a shower at their house when we had Davis. And it got to the point that whenever they had parties- even though the guest list was mainly made up of older, more senior people in our ad agency- Davis and I were always invited.
Maureen and I were quite a pair working together. We could not have been more opposite. She was 20-25 years older than me and very often teased about what an entitled millennial I was. Because she could never imagine saying "no" to a project because it didn't fit her interest or seem like the right step in her career. She was very much in the mindset that you do what you are asked and you don't ask questions. So you can imagine that as much as we laughed together- we also sparred a bit too. And that is a big part of why we became so close. I think in many ways we learned quite a bit from each other. I learned the value of honesty, integrity and hard work. How people matter. How you don't take the short and shady route to get to the top of something. You take the honest and open road that honors the people around you- even if it makes your trip longer. And I think she also learned from me that it's okay to have your own interests in mind- it's okay to look out for yourself, say no, and even direct your own career.
When she and Kate got married- they went to Toronto because gay marriages weren't recognized in Texas. I made each of them matching bracelets of natural pearls that they wore for their wedding.
Maureen taught me a lot about love too- and being open minded. She is quite possibly the most conservative gay person out there. In my naivety- I thought gay people were a certain way. All very out there. All very liberal. She and Kate blew every stereotype apart for me.
I asked her once if she believe she was born gay. She looked at me, and I'll never forget her face, and she said with shock, disappointment, and a load of sarcasm "No Sam. I chose this." And I instantly knew what she meant. She had grown up in conservative upstate New York and struggled with who she was for most of her life. It was the most incredibly naive thing for me to suggest that all that pain and such a hard path was just a choice.
Anyway. Maureen is my mom's age. And she is dying. She is dying of cancer that has spread throughout her whole body. And I've known she has had cancer for the last year- I keep up with her through my friend Stacey, and through my other mentor Jeanne. Because when I call Maureen- she won't address it. She has never mentioned it to me and I have never been able to bring myself to ask.
She had a clean cat scan this past fall. She was in remission.
And then she went back in January- and they told her it has spread to many different areas of her body. She is on a medical trial program that has no guarantees and has reduced her to a shadow of herself. I didn't know it was that bad. Or maybe I did. But I couldn't realize it was that bad until Kate posted a picture of them returning home after a day of treatment in San Antonio on Maureen's birthday.
She treated it like a birthday picture. Thanking everyone for the well wishes- with flowers and balloons in the background. But I knew what it was. It was her way of showing people how much time there was left.
And there isn't much time left. And the thing that struck me more than anything- was how many years she spent worrying about things and stressing about her job or the promotion she didn't get. And none of it mattered.
I called Jeanne while I was in LA and I sobbed to her like a child. And I asked probably three different ways if she believed that Maureen understood what was happening- if she had come to terms with it- and she told me that she hadn't- and that she didn't know if she would. That even as she is about to go on disability and hospice- she is emailing people at night about work. Asking questions and making plans. Because she took a new job in the last year- and doesn't want to let anyone down. She says, even as she is doubled over in pain, that she feels she is cheating them- the company that hired her, that is owned by a dear friend of hers fully knowing what would be coming.
I cannot wrap my head around it. I feel as though I have been ignoring it for the last year. Because I have such a hard time dealing with things like this. And my heart breaks for her. And everyone that loves her. And I cannot stop thinking of that quote "The trouble is- you think you have time..."
Make each day count.