"Our job as women in this world is to help lift each other up. Nothing, nothing, should ever get in the way of that. My job is to help lift you up, so you can do the same for other women in your life. You're going to be an amazing mother." - Danielle
I met Danielle on her first day on the job as Executive Director at Stepping Stones. I was hosting a large Speaker Series event and was invited for dinner beforehand with the Board of Directors to meet her. There, across half eaten pizzas and beer, we shook hands. That was probably the only time we shook hands; we were both huggers.
It took me and the whole organization more than a moment to reorganize our workplace and our village community to welcome the force of a woman that was Danielle into her right seat as our fearless leader. With a few bruises and a lot of learning, we did, and came to adore her unstoppable humor, her ability to cut through the BS, her commitment to doing things right, along with her diamond studded flip flops and an occasional cigar.
Fast forward a couple years, I'm planning to get pregnant but haven't told her yet. We're out to our usual local Mexican work lunch, and I'm awkwardly hinting at the idea of reducing my hours to have a baby. I am explaining to her that I'm taking a hard look at my life and thinking about my future. I am worried about money, I feel overworked, and am trying to figure out how to set up the right situation just in case, you know, I ever become a mom. I'm talking in circles trying to prove that I'm totally committed to Stepping Stones, and need to reach my potential as a powerful woman leader and change-maker in this world like, ASAP.
I'll never forget the look on her face. It was the look of a mom, waiting for her child to finish rambling so she can speak. "Are you done?", she asked. I'm sure I looked like a kid. She went on to say a few things, one of which I'll never forget.
She said, "Our job as women in this world is to help lift each other up. Nothing, nothing, should ever get in the way of that. My job is to help lift you up, so you can do the same for other women in your life. You're going to be an amazing mother."
Little did we know that in a month I'd be pregnant and she'd be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. That she would step down immediately from her position as Executive Director and by necessity, I would step into it. My entire pregnancy paralleled her cancer journey. A profound theme in the Stepping Stones village is the idea of the inseparable union of the "gift" and the "wound". I cannot imagine a more poignant way to live that metaphor than to birth into leadership and motherhood as she was forced to let go of it.
The last time I saw her was on her birthday. I was 6 months pregnant and huge. She reminded me why I was so lucky to be having a boy, "Because boys are easier and always love their mamas!"
To the spirit of Danielle, Big D, Mama Bear, whose humor, passion for inclusion, shameless love of junk food, and huge heart will never be forgotten. Thank you for the lessons you've brought into the Stepping Stones circle. Thank you for taking me to the corner to get an ice cream every time Stepping Stones felt totally overwhelming, which was pretty much every week. Thank you for the phrase "Ain't nobody got time for that sh**!", an essential koan of motherhood. Thank you for lifting me up, laughing, always. You've inspired me as a woman and mother in ways I know I will continue to learn from as my path unfolds.
I've missed you for so long already, and especially as a mom. Now I get it, finally.
Happy Birthday Danielle.
Love you so much, beyond words can carry,
Emily, our son Shaye & your Stepping Stones Tribe