During Women’s History Month, I am celebrating some truly amazing women who have changed our world for the better, but I am also honoring a few of my own history makers; women who came into my life knowing exactly who they are, took risks, failed full-out, and still stand tall.  This week I want to celebrate my longest-standing friend. We met in the 5th grade.  The first time I saw her she was brushing her hair in class.  My first impression was:  who would do that?  As I would come to learn, Karen would.  Even at 11 years old, she was the original bad ass, not intimidated by anything or anyone, not vulnerable to societal judgement. She knew then, as she knows now, exactly who she is.

But she was dealt a difficult hand. The youngest of 9 children, raised by strict Catholic parents, her father was a baker who owned his own shop, standing for 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, to support his family. Her mother did everything in her power to manage her unwieldy troupe. Karen learned early on that she had to fend for herself to survive. She watched and listened and formed herself into the most outspoken, formidable individual I have ever known.  Most of us would have buckled under the trials she has withstood--teenage pregnancy, suicide of the baby’s father, arrest for practicing midwifery despite the on-going need and support from her clients: rural and urban women, many of whom were medical professionals. She has survived the loss of family, loss of home, her own bouts with illness, and the eventual loss of that first cherished daughter. She sought calm in the chaos that always seemed to find her, and made hard, sometimes unpopular decisions to save herself and her family.  She reached in every direction to survive and has raised two beautiful and intelligent daughters. To this day, she laughs more than anyone I know, puts her feet on the floor every morning, and continues to work in service as an RN to the severely and profoundly disabled.  When asked about that she said, “They give so much love.  I love them all!”

Karen is one of the strongest and fair people I know. I learned forgiveness from her. I learned how to laugh in the face of controversy and life’s hardships from her. It is unfortunate that her name is associated with the narrow- minded, the privileged, and the racist women we see today in memes and videos all over the internet. Now she has that to deal with. But it makes perfect sense in the map of her life.  She laughs about that, too.

I hope that all our Renny Run girls grow up with the mettle and humor of my childhood best friend.

In my mind she belongs on this list of bad-ass women even if her history belongs only to the people she has inspired.

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