Karen had piles. Stacks and piles and filing drawers and cabinets full of stuff. It made my eyes cross and my head hurt just thinking about it, but somehow in all those piles she knew where all the things were. I’d go in her room and ask if I could borrow a tool or material or a flier or a whatever, and she’d immediately start searching for it and it was found in moments.
But every single time she went in search of something, she found something else she’d misplaced or forgotten. It was uncanny. And every time she’d giggle and say, “Oh! Thank You, God!” It made me smile and appreciate. Karen’s soft ways made you appreciate a lot.
There was the time a kiddo was so severely struggling with hitting and screaming, and Karen had already called for backup countless times and the kiddo was just flat out sprawled on the floor, having a huge tantrum. I’d popped in to ask, “need fresh horses?” and she’d said, “sure, but I’m just letting him have his moment.” She was okay with children being children. She was okay with all the moments, good or bad.
“Everyone has a ride over jackass hill.”
These were the words my teaching partner offered when I was telling her about some conundrum my own children experienced, or things I worried about. She said her dad always said that, and it was true. Everyone fails. Everyone falls from grace. It’s the getting back up, and riding down the hill towards a new way that is what is so beautiful and what really mattered.
She was kind with her heart and almost always made me feel like what I was doing was wonderful things. She peeked around my door frame multiple times a day, and learned how to give me little sound warnings because I’m possibly the most jumpy and easily startled human on the planet, save the fainting goats.
We were the different and we were the same. She didn’t complain and she didn’t advocate for herself much, so sometimes I felt I had to do it for her. She kept working and doing and keeping it all happening even when her body was slowly and then very quickly deteriorating around her. I never had the pleasure of knowing her as healthy. I came on the scene late, after she’d already fought the cancer in her body for 10 years. Some days she asked me to stand in our dual door jams asking, “can you watch my class for a minute?” Some days that happened 4, 5, 6 times. She never let the pain she was experiencing effect the children in her room.
Karen was a force of nature. It took us a year to figure each other out. That first year, in 2014, I think she thought I was an interloper. I was too fancy or too pretentious, too-something. She could feel the chip on my shoulder. She was not wrong. I’d just been laid off. I never told anyone that-the absolute shame of it, the shame of not being asked back to a school. I lived that year as if it was a floating on something-not sure what it was. I didn’t connect like I could have, it was too hard, too emotionally dangerous. She knew. She never let on or said it, but it was obvious. She didn’t know if I was here for the stay.
The next year we realized how alike we were. Our philosophies on what is RIGHT for Kindergarteners were identical. We agreed on so many things, that children should be doing, feeling, seeing, touching, putting their hands on everything. Once we pulled back the curtain, we saw each other.
I moved to Karen’s hometown of Halsey in 2016, after my divorce, falling in love and buying a house with my new man. Karen had heard my life story by then. She had walked into my classroom to see me weeping saying, “I think my marriage is over.” She had seen me walking on clouds of new love happiness. Of the many gifts she offered, the simple gift of just BEING PRESENT was her speciality. She gave me the gift of trust, sharing hard stories of her own childhood and life experiences, things she was very private about, things that had hurt her.
She fought hard. She did not want to leave, she so badly wanted to stay. She had so much more to give. She talked so often about her family, her friends, her husband, her circle of community, her love. And she appreciated every single moment of that love. There is not a day that went by that Karen did not say or show her gratitude for the gifts she had been given.
If Karen knew you, she loved you. She called everyone friend, and she said loving and kind words about everyone. Deep inside her soul, Karen knew that life was about connection, people, about love. She gave so much, everything she could. Her life’s work was to show the love she had for others, to let others know she saw them.
Karen’s faith and love were more powerful than her cancer. She is a shining star in the heavens, she is guiding us from afar, loving that she is free from pain, and can help us bring miracles into our lives.