My Work Families

Having spent the busiest month of my work year in order to join my siblings to care for my 88-year old mother as we transitioned her over to assisted living, I found myself entering a hidden world of elders where so many extraordinary tales were waiting to be told. I’ve hashed through my mind several chapters and standalone stories worth their weight in gold. But today, a different one emerges.

One thing I realized both when I was gone and especially when I returned, was how extraordinary my co-workers were during my absence. I always knew I worked among a group of people who care about each other and have each other’s backs, but I had not experienced the impact of it firsthand until now. Many reached out when I was gone to provide support and assurance to not worry about work. Others offered more words when I returned and had to find my footing once again. So many picked up the extra weight that comes with the start of a Fall semester at a university and shined while doing so.

As I thought about my local work family, another one, full of colleagues from other universities who I meet with regularly and who also sent me words of support and encouragement during this time, came to my attention.

As I was heading to bed last night, I received an email from the Program Manager of my Higher Ed Forum, a group of higher education professionals in the IT Help Desk industry that meets three times a year at various schools throughout North America. We meet and engage in intensive meetings on the latest topics of interest in our profession, share ideas, and open our campuses and hometowns to each other. We work hard and play hard together and grow close in the few days a year we connect. We come from all walks of life and backgrounds, yet find a common thread that makes it easy to share and open up to one another. We have seen each other go through marriages, divorces, sickness, childbirth, losing loved ones, and now, losing each other.

When I saw the email reach my inbox with the subject line of “Sad news”, I thought for a moment that someone was leaving the forum. I didn’t expect to hear that Rion Morgan, a young and brilliant light of a man, was one of the victims of the Plano, Texas shootings this past weekend. I had only met Rion on a couple of occasions when he attended meetings, but he was quick to participate both in our professional discussions and our after hours gatherings. He had a smile that was contagious and a warmth that made you feel like you had been longtime friends.

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One of my absolutely favorite nights out was in November 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas when our forum met at Texas Christian University. We had just completed a Vertical Lessons leadership program with Manley Feinberg which included “mastering” the indoor climbing wall at TCU.  A group of us found ourselves wandering the area after dinner and landed at the Fort Worth Water Gardens. It was dusk as we walked down into the gardens and I remember Rion very quietly and sweetly offering me a hand as I found my footing down the steps in the dark. When we came upon the Mountain sculpture, of course, we decided it was an opportune moment to scale it.  It wasn’t until afterwards that we noted it may not have been the safest thing to do in our street shoes (Belay off!) when we saw the “no climbing” sign on the wall. If there is one thing about this group, it is that you always go home with a story!

I didn’t know Rion well, but I will always remember his light and he will always have a special place in my heart and be a part of this extraordinary family.

RIP Rion

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Kathy

Tonight I learned of an old friend’s passing.  I hadn’t seen Kathy in about 30 years since we graduated from high school but had reconnected recently via Facebook.  We didn’t interact other than a couple of Likes and Pokes on FB and peeks into each others’ online life, but as I sit here tonight toasting to her I think back to another time.

My first middle school slumber party was in the basement of her house where a gaggle of teenage girls convened and screeched as we watched Psycho (I believe I showered with the bathroom door open for several weeks following).  A few boys from our school stopped by and tapped on the basement windows so we all snuck out and wandered the streets of Hammond in the wee hours, sipping on a warm communal beer that one of the boys took from his house.  At one point we stopped by Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant on Indianapolis Boulevard where Kathy and I stole several rolls of toilet paper that the group later used to “TP” and “For Sale sign” friends’ houses.  We were such rebels!

Another memory was getting on someone’s moped (maybe Jeff Dixon’s?) and riding on the back of it with her at full speed in a park (Baring Parkway?).  We hit two hills in a row, went airborne, and landed sideways.  Though the moped had seen better days, we were both lucky to come out of it without any broken bones or worse.  We had huge cuts, bruises and knots all over from the crash, but the thing I remember most was how after we made sure we were both okay, Kathy turned to me and just laughed and laughed.  We were covered in mud and blood and completely thrilled with ourselves.

Many years have passed and memories of that time are a bit foggy, but my heart is heavy tonight as I say goodbye to someone who knew at such a young age how to truly live in the moment.  RIP, old friend.