When I first met my friend Penny Thieme, she had begun to gain weight but still had a fairly small body, a generous spirit and a glorious smile. Short, spunky, wildly creative and sparkling, Penny engaged my heart when we first met as few women can. I don’t have a lot of female friends, but I’ve known Penny for 25 years or so, during which time we’ve each gone through some awful experiences. And some glorious ones. Penny has stood by my side through some serious drama; and like many of her friends, I unhesitatingly trusted about a fifth of my son’s childhood days to her.
Along the way, health challenges drove Penny’s eating choices and I watched her climb the charts to the point at which her size posed a serious threat to her life, in the form of diabetes. Penny lives beyond the limit of personal strength as I understand it. She surpasses most folks in perseverance and determination. So when she told me that she intended to lose weight and get down to the size she had been thirty years ago, I believed her. I understood something of what faced her: I had eaten my way from 100 to 172 in a couple of years; stayed that way for half a decade; and then, over twenty-four months, managed to lose 68 pounds. But Penny’s hurdle loomed much larger, in the triple digits.
The true challenge, though, lurked in the need to disband mantras which took her over the edge and into the abyss. The self-loathing, the external pressures, the physical limitations, the stark detractors. I’ve never quite figured out why food soothes the cackling of these demons, but it does. Being loved by another helps; but loving one’s self — that’s the real ticket.
Penny is a gifted photographer and an acclaimed painter. She hammers me to let her snap candid shots of me, which I unfailingly despise. But last evening, with my little Droid phone and its funky camera, I retailiated. I realize that Penny has not yet attained her weight loss goal. And I won’t post a before-and-after picture.
But this truth must be spoken: Penny is unstoppable. She built the VALA Gallery from a dream and an abandoned store front despite loud scoffing from even within her inner circle. She’s shown her works and those of other VALA artists in venues across the metropolitan area, including quarterly in my professional suite. Dozens of young folks call her “Aunt Penny” and would turn to her when they feared talking with their parents. She has no enemies; she has hundreds of friends; and she has found her center. She inspires me. She inspires us all. Her radiance lights the world.