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Karen Henry & Zola

Friend and Mentor: Karen Henry

I wanted to share an important person in my life with you, one who has shaped me profoundly in many ways: Karen Henry. She’s been a good friend for longer than I can remember (you know those people who come into your life and you cannot remember a time without them, that’s Karen). She has mentored and loved me in so many special and amazing ways.

Karen is an activist, a humanitarian and all around amazing woman. She has won awards. Given many speeches. Been honored by many. And I find her to be the most down to earth and real person. I’m still amazed that she is my friend … I feel so very lucky to have her in my corner.

I can only visit her for a short time these days, as she is very sick and gets tired very quickly. But, when I see her, we laugh and share stories. It’s a wonderful time together!

Karen has always been so encouraging and supportive of whatever I am doing, whether it be applying for a new position, or taking on the challenge of a master’s degree, or starting my own business, or having a child—actually, that’s a funny story.

I was talking to Karen on the phone and decided to tell her that I was pregnant, as I knew it would be some time before I would see her in person, but somehow I never got around to it. A few days had passed, and we were on the phone again, when she said, “I had the strangest dream that you said you were pregnant!” Then I laughed and said, “That wasn’t a dream, I am pregnant!” We both busted a gut laughing so hard, and when we had settled down, she told me, “You’ll be a great mom.” Since then, every time I see her, she keeps telling me that and giving me specific examples of why

Karen has a gift to see clarity in every situation. Here’s an example: She was interviewing for a position, and during the interview, she realized that a friend was better suited for the position. She stopped the interview, handed the person her friend’s contact information and said, “She would be a better candidate,” and then left. Her friend got the job. Karen was thrilled. She didn’t grasp for the job for the sake of having the job. She saw it for what it was: better for someone else. She then turned it to someone else. Her friend has had the job for 10 years, and loves it.

Karen’s love is what can often sustain others. I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself, but Karen’s love is amazing. There was a time when things were very low. But, Karen was there for me. Supporting me. Loving me. Once, when things were particularly bad during this crisis time, she decided a trip to Saugatuck was in order. We loaded into the car and drove there. (About a 45-minute drive from Grand Rapids.) We shopped, ate, laughed and talked. And I will never forget one particular moment. I was trying on some jackets. Karen looked at the jacket I was wearing, looked me in the eyes and said, “You are so beautiful, Ashima. You radiate beauty.” It made me feel so very loved. And it also helped to soften my hardened heart and move past my crisis.

Karen always takes the time to see the greatness that is inside of everyone. I love that she looks me in the eye to tell me what she thinks of me or how much she loves me. It makes the connection all the more strong and real.

I’m grateful that my little girl has been able to spend time with her “Mimi.” She has been able to be in her company and learn from this truly amazing woman. Mostly, I’m grateful that the universe brought this jewel to my life. It is hard to imagine my life without her in it, but as actress Valerie Harper, who is battling terminal brain cancer recently said, “Don’t go to the funeral until the day of the funeral.” So today I will not do that, and instead look forward to spending many more precious days laughing with my dear friend and mentor.Karen has taught me so much, but first and foremost, she has shown me what it means to be a good friend and mentor. She has shown me the importance of being the voice for those with no voice. She has given me more than I can even begin to thank her for.

Getting It

Getting It

Years ago, I owned a business called Hopper Business Solutions. I named it in honor of a spitfire math wiz, Naval Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. (Thanks to Admiral Hopper, we have the phrase “buggy software” and the COBAL programming language.)

Hopper was my inspiration while a Computer Science major at Michigan State University. I was one of only a handful of women in the program, and I found it helpful to have a model to look up to. I wish she could have been more than inspiration. I wish she could have been my mentor. Fortunately, I found Geri Larkin.

I met Geri in my early years as a business owner. We met when she taught a business marketing class. I don’t recall the title of the class, but I do remember Geri was dressed in a sharp suit, had great credentials, and made a profound impression on me. We took an immediate liking to each other – she taught me the ins and outs of running my own business, and I extolled the future of this wacky thing called the Internet. I still have the book she wrote back then: “Woman to Woman: Street Smarts for Women Entrepreneurs,” it was very helpful then and still is today.

Over the years, Geri and I kept in touch. I would visit her in Ann Arbor, and she and I would have coffee or lunch when she came to Grand Rapids. She sent me copies of her latest books, and tried to help me get published, (which failed, but hey, we tried). I was so impressed with Geri, that I was blogging about her and one of her books, “Bad Hair Days” before blogs were fashionable.

Geri never set out to mentor me; it just came about. Through her actions, delivery and thoughts she touched me in very profound ways. Through her activities and connection with me throughout those years, she modeled and showed me what living an authentic life is all about. She has taught me about mindfulness and compassion without asking me to attend a single class.

Then, as often happens, we lost touch, until I discovered that Geri had given up her business as a high-powered management consultant to enter a Buddhist seminary where she was ordained, and then had started a temple in Detroit, Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple. Talk about a career change! Needless to say, I decided to attend a retreat at the temple. We greeted each other with a wordless hug, and the years fell away as the feeling of connection immediately resumed. It was amazing to see this once larger than life management consultant silently leading us through meditation. It was poignant and lovely.

Afterwards, she showed me the temple, her simple room, her beautiful artwork, and the neighborhood that surrounds it all. We laughed, talked, and shared memories; then, all too soon, it was time for me to leave. As I got into my car, she said to me, “You know what to do, and will do the right things.” Her confidence in me (something I was sorely lacking at the time) revealed her – and myself – in a new light: We were simply women trying to make sense of our lives. And during all those years when I placed her on a pedestal, the truth was this: She and I were more alike than I ever realized, but by believing more in her than in myself, I had prevented me from seeing my full potential.

This got me reminiscing about the time when Geri hired me to help her understand the potential of the Internet that was bursting into business scene. I remember thinking, “Why is she working with me, she could hire the best? Why me? Why is she listening to my ideas and taking them to heart?” But now I get it. Geri saw something in me that I hadn’t yet seen in myself. And by placing her confidence in me, she allowed my confidence to grow.

Now that we have reconnected, I get cards and letters from her. Even though I don’t see her as often as I would like, I count her as once of my closest friends. When Zola was born, Geri sent her a book, “Drink Juice, Stay Loose,” an adorable book for kids. Another time she sent me her book, “Building a Business the Buddhist Way.” Inside the cover she wrote, “Dear Ashima, because you’ll get this! Love, Geri Larkin.”

Thank you Geri, for “getting me” long before I did.