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.)
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."