Yesterday I attended a memorial service for an old friend from Germany, Donna Gallegos Fontenot. I was struck by some things I learned, or maybe just forgot over the years. Donna and I were both born in Fort Riley, Kansas (our connection stems back to our days as military dependents). Both of our mothers were/are German and worked together at the AYA (youth center) in Karlsruhe, and neither of them totally lost their accent. Donna came from a family of four children, and so did I, though she had all sisters and I had all brothers.
Donna died of smoking-related lung cancer at age 51 and my mother died of a heart attack at age 51, having never lost her “More” cigarettes habit. Donna and I got to know each other while we hung out at the Scout Hut during breaks between classes, smoking cigarettes and thinking, no doubt, that we looked so absolutely cool…never realizing what we were doing to ourselves. As Jeanette, Donna’s sister, gave the eulogy yesterday, she spoke about one of her sister’s greatest achievements before she died: convincing six other people to quit smoking. No small feat…and I know for a fact that she’s continuing to exert the same influence even now.
I quit smoking back in ’85 and never picked up a cigarette again, I’m glad to say. So as I was driving home, I thought about Donna and what she went through, and how important it became for her to help others avoid the suffering she endured. That got me thinking about the habits I have, continue to complain about, and frankly, waffle about (one day committed, the next day, flippant). Oh, I give lip service to changing and then turn around and do the same exact thing yet again. I’m not looking for perfection or interested in beating myself up about this, but if I’m really honest with myself, there are ways in which I create hardship for myself unnecessarily. These are just entrenched habits that don’t make me a bad person, but they don’t bring me freedom or joy either..they keep me feeling disconnected at times.
Donna may no longer be here in the physical, but I feel her inspiring me to live more fully…and that means making loving choices day in, day out…and allowing that to be a new habit.
©Maria K. Benning, M.Ed.
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