Inform, Entertain, Inspire
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles - Authenticity: A word I live by

Barbara Allison (right) with her friend, Mary
Barbara Allison
Barbara Allison (right) with her friend, Mary

Merriam Webster’s word of the year for 2023 is authentic. When I read that, I smiled.

Authentic is also the word I chose as my guide for 2023, along with the mantra Acta Non Verba or deeds not words. Long before 2023 rolled around, I’d reached my limit for empty words and for repeated bad behaviors by those promising change. I cut it all out of my life. I simply haven’t got the bandwidth for it any longer. Life’s too finite for such inauthenticity.

I also challenged myself in 2023. I continued my weightlifting regimen, completed a heart-stopping tandem skydive, hiked for four days in the Appalachian Mountains, and made a commitment to volunteering weekly to feed the hungry in my community. That last part is something you’ll never see me posting about on social media. I abhor virtue signaling. It’s gross and inauthentic.

As this year draws to a close, I’ve also been reflecting on the friends whose shoulders I stand upon, namely two friends that I lost this year. If I flipped open an illustrated dictionary to the word authentic, I’m sure they’d both be smiling back at me.

I lost Mary in mid-November. She was my dear friend, my daughter’s Godmother, and the best neighbor I ever had. I became a first-time mother with Mary right next door. That was a gift. As a mother of three, she made motherhood look so easy, and pretty soon I got the hang of it, too. She helped me let go of so many misconceptions I had about being a perfect mother, because a being good mother is better. A good mother isn’t perfect, and by acknowledging her mistakes, she teaches her children valuable lessons about humility, growth, and authenticity.

Mary also destroyed the notion that motherhood meant staying one step ahead of every potential problem. That kind of hypervigilance was making me even more neurotic than I already was. She helped me jettison that whole What to Expect series, so popular at the time, which is written from the perspective of problems your child may be experiencing. I was too new of a mother to realize what bunch of crap that was. She gave me perspective and together, we renamed that series Expecting the Worst!

Without fail and in the most loving way, Mary always told me what I needed to know, not what I wanted to hear. Her actions showed me more than mere words ever could.

She fought a valiant battle with cancer and through it all remained uniquely herself. Rather than plan a funeral which she’d obviously never attend, she threw a spring soiree that was one of the best parties I’ve ever attended. It was laughter and fond memories that flowed, not tears, and she was the heart and soul of it all.

Sister Michelle and Barbara Allison
Barbara Allison
Sister Michelle and Barbara Allison

My dear friend Sister Michelle was 90 years young when she departed us at the end of October. I met her in 2015 when I began my career with the Poor Handmaid Sisters. After reporting on a community meeting of theirs, she approached me with a sly smile and asked: “Aren’t you glad you got married instead of joining the convent?” I told her, “Sister, I didn’t know how stupid I was until I got married. That’s when I found out I’d been putting away groceries the wrong way my whole life!”

On another occasion, we attended Mass together and during the Sign of Christ’s peace, I bent over to give another sister a hug as she sat in her wheelchair. Sister Michelle walked by and smacked me right on the butt. So, I turned to her and replied: “And also with you!” We devolved into laughter! She gave me the gift of humor and that’s a righteous gift to have and to cherish.

Both ladies knew their time on this earth was coming to an end, and their grace and acceptance of that still has me in awe.

I worked with Sister Michelle for months to get every detail of her funeral just right, and it was my honor to do so. Together, we produced a farewell video of her that was shown at her wake service. In it, she stated, “It’s my turn to do it my way, not to worry about what other people think or what other people say.” I love that.

Once you’ve been in the presence of someone who lives life authentically, someone who faces reality no matter the situation, it’s impossible to go back to living for the superficial veneer of what things look like rather than what they are. I’m grateful to have had Mary and Sister Michelle in life. I stand on their shoulders. I’ve learned my own way of being lovingly authentic and I’m not going back. I’m going forward with these two angels as my guides.

Music: "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys

Barbara Allison is a writer, photographer, editor, maker, mom, and wife. She is a Content Specialist in Communications and Marketing for the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ Sisters in Plymouth, Indiana. She also worked as a journalist in South Bend for 30 years.