Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Role Models

Our society, being driven as it is by fame and celebrity, usually seeks role models among the rich, powerful, and successful members of our society. Yet, as my previous post demonstrates, those with power and those who have received special treatment in this society are often poor examples of role models. Instead of looking to the celebrities in our culture for role models, we would be much better off looking closer to home, to those we actually know.

In my case, one of my role models is my mother. She is truly an amazing woman and one of the strongest people I have ever known. In 1988, at the age of 39, she had little to boast of. She had married shortly after graduating high school and spent the next 20 years as a wife and mother, raising me and my older sister. 1988 marks the year of my parents divorce, and also the year my mom graduated from the University of Colorado with a Kinesiology degree. Two years later, she graduated from the University of Colorado Health Sciences center with a Physical Therapy degree. How she accomplished these goals while raising two children and going through a divorce is beyond me. In her twenty year career as a physical therapist she has helped to heal myriads of people and has become one of the most respected physical therapists in Colorado.

As much as she has touched lives as a physical therapist, the lives she has touched personally are what really distinguish my mother as a great woman.

The early 1990s were a tumultuous time for our family. My sister was killed in a car accident in 1993 and at the same time my mother was dealing with an abusive (second) husband. As I have learned from my mother, many abused women lack the strength and courage to escape. Yet, my mother, showing her incredible strength, fought for herself and got out of the relationship, divorcing in 1996. I lived solely with my Mom for my final semester of High School, and really witnessed her spirit, which had been beaten down for so many years, come to life.

She quickly became involved in Boulder County Safehouse, an organization for battered women. She began working with them as an advocate, going on domestic disturbance calls and counseling women in abusive relationships. She continued to work with the organization, eventually serving as the Boulder County Safehouse Chairperson in the late 1990s Her work with this organization led to lecturing opportunities at the University of Colorado and to articles appearing in the Boulder Daily Camera. Her work in this area touched, if not saved, numerous women's lives in the Boulder area.

But, in perhaps my mother's greatest act of self-giving love, she took in a foster child in 1997. Diana Smith was a 16 year old terror, a stark contrast to me, a perfect angel. All joking aside, Diana really was a difficult child to raise. She had been in and out of foster homes her entire life and lacked they stability needed to stay out of trouble. No one had ever loved Diana long enough to teach her how to live. My mother was committed to providing that stability to Diana and just refused to give up. I remember a story of Diana from my college years. My mother had come to visit me for parents weekend at Baylor University. On the first night she was here, we got a call from my aunt, who lived in the same Condominium complex as my mom. My mom's condo was surrounded by the flashing lights of police cruisers, called out to deal with a multi-keg underage party thrown by Diana. My mother was furious, and took out that fury on Diana, but she refused to give up on her. My mother's persistent love for Diana and her stubborn refusal to give in to Diana's rebellion has proved a godsend for her. My mom, in a symbolic move which demonstrated her commitment to Diana, adopted her when she turned 21 (her deadbeat dad would not allow it before that time). Diana is a wonderful sister who takes after my mother in strength and courage. She lives with her wonderful fiancee in Brewster, NY, works multiple jobs while earning her college degree. My mother really gave Diana a chance and turned her life around.

As an offshoot of that relationship, my mother has also turned around the life of Roger Smith, Diana's younger brother. Though there is no legal relationship, my mom and her wonderful third husband, Jimmy Macrina, have essentially taken Roger in and guided him on a productive path. Roger, though not quite as hell raising as Diana, was also on a path to a bad place. Through my mom's support and direction, Roger Graduated from Job Corps while also earning his high school diploma. He recently got a Job working for Denver County, where he has already been promoted. Roger and Diana are part of my mom's wonderful legacy of loving people until they are in a place to succeed.

To cap it all off, my mother recently sold her successful physical therapy company and took a job where most people would not work. She provides physical therapy at a nursing home in Windsor, Colorado to patients with Alzheimer's and Schizophrenia. I have visited her work multiple times and her patients, those whom society has forgotten and discarded, are given wonderful care and love by my mother and it shows on their faces when she enters their rooms.

I am graduating this May from Baylor University with my Ph.D. and I must say, I could never have done it without a role-model like my mother, Cassandra Lynn Reich.

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