Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Tiffany Brought Me Glee and Glee Brought Me Tiffany
Last Friday, I was on an Adirondack Trailways bus on my way to Accord, NY for the Waking Circle's Fall Retreat. Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, my Facebook account was only an iPhone tap away.
I opened the Facebook app, and I saw that I had a message from Susan Raffo. Susan, as many of my readers know, is one of my favorite people in the entire world. So when I saw that I had a message in my inbox from Susan, I was mighty happy. I opened the message expecting that it would be something wise or witty or fun or thought provoking. Instead, it was a short note letting me know that our mutual friend, Tiffany Harmon, had died of a heart attack the day before.
At first I thought there was something wrong with me. Not only did I not cry or feel sad, I didn't feel anything. As a matter of fact, I got a little pissed off at Susan. There was no question of me believing that Tiffany was dead. I didn't believe. Not only did I not believe it, I rejected it.
Of all the people walking this planet there was no one that I knew that loved God more than Tiffany. Also, on the good person scale from 1 to 10, 10 being Jesus/Buddha/Dalai Lama, Tiffany was, at least, a 9.9998.
So, if Tiffany loved God, and if Tiffany were good, then Tiffany, by all accounts a young woman (maybe 40 years old...maybe), could not possibly be dead. And she most definitely could not be dead from a heart attack. Therefore, Susan was lying and therefore I was pissed.
If you are amazed at my powers of deduction, and denial, you should know I shocked the hell out of myself.
Like a good Minnesotan, I don't do emotions in public, especially on a bus heading towards the idyllic countryside. A bus filled almost exclusively with well-off WASPy white folks. And I was headed to a retreat with a bunch of folks that I didn't know.
Unfortunately, grief acknowledges not geography nor demographic metrics.
The tears started coming, and I pretended as if I were moved by the mist rolling off of the mountains. Such a sensitive soul am I. (Please refer to my line about denial).
I spent a good part of the weekend thinking about Tiffany and the lives that she touched. The first time I met Tiffany was during a job interview. I was applying for the position of Development Associate at YouthLink. Tiffany, as director of human resources, was one of the people doing the interview. I was a finalist for the job along with Susan Raffo. I didn't get the job.
I pretty much thought that was the last time I would see Ms. Harmon.
But, a year later, Susan was promoted to Development Director at YouthLink, I applied, again, for the position of Development Associate, and lo and behold, this time I got the job. Tiffany was again part of my interview team.
From the first moment I met Tiffany, I felt relaxed and welcomed by her. In the grand world of HR personnel, she was pretty much the perfect person for the job. Strong, emotive, empathetic, and able to balance many personalities. She believed in lifting people up, holding them accountable, and helping them figure out how to move from the place they found themselves to the place they wanted to be. Life at YouthLink is always tricky. At the time that we all worked together, YouthLink had just moved its several large programs under one roof. Though each program had been part of the same agency, for years they'd operated almost as independent entities, with their own cultures. When the programs combined...all hell broke loose...again and again over a number of years.
Tiffany sat at the center of that storm. I watched her do her job, and I watched pick at her and cut at her. So I made it my duty to make sure that every day, at least once a day, I would go into her office and do or say something so ridiculous or outrageous that it would force her to laugh (usually followed by her shaking her head and giving me a "Big Mama," look followed by the statement, "Brandon. Brandon. What am I going to do with you?")
I'll tell you what she did with me. That beautiful amazing woman loved the hell out of me, and that love was returned. I watched her struggle with some of the positions of her church around queer folks. I watched her make the choice to leave her church because she couldn't reconcile its teachings with what she knew to be true. I watched her try and love herself in the way that she deserved. Almost every memory that I have of Tiffany includes laughter. How many people in your life do you have where your memories are 99.9% pure joy? Not to say that I never saw Tiffany down or struggling. I've seen her upset and angry. But she always held joy so close to her skin, and she shared it so freely even in times that she might not have had the spirit to give.
I looked back over my Facebook wall, and almost every note I ever got from that woman ended with I love you.
I love you too, Tiffany. I hope you were greeted at the Gates with a big old plate of fried calamari.
I shed my tears for Tiff, and I let go of my anger. And I thought I was doing just fine. And then I started watching the latest episode of Glee. In the new episode, Curt's Dad has a heart attack. And no sooner did I realize what was going on that I had to stop watching and start writing.
This is my goodbye to you, Tiffany. I know I will see you again (I hope not too soon...unless you get resurrected or decide to swing through on a Holy Ghost Conga Line or something). You earned your rest. Sleep well. I know you are with your God, and I know he loves the hell out of your beautiful self. I would be lying through my teeth if I said that I wasn't a little bit angry with him for taking you away. Those children still need you. Those staff people need you. Your family and friends need you. But I guess what you needed was to rest a little while. So take your rest, sweet sister. Sing and shout and dance and laugh and eat and feel that joy that you gave to all of us so freely, so sweetly, and so lovingly. I love you.
Thank you for loving us so well.
Tiffany's family announced that a scholarship fund has been created, in Tiffany's name, for the homeless and at-risk youth served by YouthLink. YouthLink is the largest provider of services to homeless, at-risk, and precariously housed youth in Minnesota. Through programs that provide basic needs of food, clothing, and transitional housing to education programs and a drop-in center for homeless youth, YouthLink changes the lives of young people.
Please consider a gift to the Tiffany Harmon Scholarship Fund. Gifts can be made out to YouthLink, care of Dr. Heather Husesby, Executive Director.
Checks can be mailed to:
41 North 12th Street
Minneapolis. MN 55403