Marilyn left her earthsuit on Friday, August 24. Seeing who and what was awaiting her, she departed with a hint of a smile on her face.
I first met Marilyn about 20 years ago when I took her “Adventures in Self Esteem” class through Adult Ed. Although I felt that my self-esteem was just fine, I had heard so much about her, I had to check out her class. I must admit that I was a bit surprised. Who was this woman in the outdated but strangely charming wardrobe, who kicked off her shoes at the beginning of class and taught for two hours in her bare feet?
How could anyone so perky have gone through any hard times? But within a few short weeks, she was sharing about a period in her life when she was suicidal, how she had been repeatedly molested as a child, and how her best friend died in her arms after a car accident when she was driving. Her credibility soared, and the belief rang true that “If you can’t change a situation, your only positive choice is to change your attitude about the situation.”
I was hooked, and like so many of her devotees, took the class numerous times, dragging my friends along so we could share the experience and grow together, using Marilyn-isms to speak a common language. With every class, I felt a shift taking place as to how I viewed the world. The tools were simple, but the results were profound. Her “Four Keys to Unlocking Your Potential” were:
- You will always find what you are looking for
- Where your focus goes, your energy flows
- You will always experience what you choose to believe
- Every moment in time you have a choice of focus.
One of the early assignments was to keep a notebook by our beds and write down the three best things about our days before we went to sleep. I committed to doing it and before long I was looking for my “best things” throughout the day. It wasn’t long before I wasn’t scrambling to find three, but narrowing down all the good things of the day to the top three. I was going through some tough times around then and it did a lot to change my focus.
I continued for many years after that, and made it a ritual to sit down with my notebook on New Year’s Day and read over a thousand “bests” of the previous year. I’m sure that a day doesn’t go by when these principles, which have become such a part of my nature, don’t come into play. As I said, the tools were simple, but the results were profound.
I had the privilege of working with Marilyn in the elementary schools, and her impact upon the young kids was amazing to observe. By third grade, they were already comparing themselves to other students and feeling “less than” in some way. Her techniques were simple but effective, and you could tell by the looks on the students’ faces that they got it.
She also taught classes for the parents and for the teachers so that they, too, could support the idea that every child was a unique, one-of-a-kind masterpiece and had their own special song to sing in the world. I often wonder if the current bullying epidemic would be happening if parents and teachers had been following her lead.
If you consider all the people who took her classes or seminars in the schools, on cruise ships, in the prisons, and during 32 years of teaching multiple classes at Adult Ed, it’s safe to say that she has touched over 100,000 lives and changed them forever – not to mention all the people those people have touched and changed because of her teachings. Quite a legacy!
Marilyn walked the talk. We often hear the phrase, “lost her battle with cancer,” but she never would have said that. When she received her terminal diagnosis, she went straight to acceptance, finding the best ways to fill her days with joy, laughter, and meaning. She told very few people, and because of her attitude, no one else even suspected. This is because, aside from the fact that she knew that people would see her differently, having everyone in her life be exactly who they are and sharing their lives is what fed her and kept her going.
When her doctor told her to get her affairs in order, she formed her “Graduation Team” to take care of all aspects of her personal life. I feel very honored to have been part of that team, and though some of us didn’t know each other, Marilyn had something special in mind by bringing us together. One of her great joys during that period was having us go through her closet and pick out clothes, hats, or jewelry that we liked and model them for her. She would squeal with delight at our choices and tell the story behind each piece. During those last few months, when her lack of appetite was an issue, she abandoned her super-healthy diet and ate anything that appealed to her. Eating sour cream after 20 years was practically a spiritual experience!
When all her affairs were in order at home, she moved to Serenity House. The Saturday before her death, some friends flew out from the East Coast to spend the day with her. At one point, there were eight of us in her room and she was sitting up in her bed, holding court and organizing games to help us get to know each other. She talked and laughed and ate and went for wheelchair rides around the beautiful property, all day and well into the night. That was her last hurrah, and she ended on her terms.
I was with her for four to six hours a day for those last two months and never once heard a negative word about her journey. The most powerful reason for that was her deep and unwavering faith. With Marilyn, it wasn’t a “belief,” it was a “knowing,” and she spoke with Jesus on a daily basis. She didn’t consider leaving this world as death, but as a small step to something more magnificent than she could ever imagine. She had completed all she was meant to do in this life and was ready for her graduation. It was such an honor and privilege for me to be such an intimate part of this amazing journey. She was an extraordinary human being and a great gift to this community and beyond. I will be eternally grateful to have had her in my life.
In lieu of flowers, please make a contribution in honor of Marilyn to Life Chronicles, 113 W. Mission Street, suite B2, Santa Barbara 93101, www.LifeChronicles.org.
A celebration of life will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 13, in Area 9 of Lower Manning Park in Montecito (off San Ysidro Road via Santa Rosa Road). Please wear colorful, casual clothes. Bring a blanket or camp chair, a potluck dish to share, and wonderful memories of Marilyn. RSVP celebrationMG@gmail.com.