Where’s Julio?


I am “visiting home”, vacationing in the very building in which I last lived. While fully aware that things change,  my hope was that I would find my former residence exactly as it once was and my friends just as I had remembered them.

As I Ubered into the parking lot, a myriad of  memories swirled in my head, each one competing for my attention.  The tall white concrete structure reminded me of how long it took to paint the building, a six-month project that turned into a 2-year one, nevertheless it still looks beautiful. The sight of the hastily scattered shopping carts outside the front entrance forced its way to the front of my mind. That always bugged me. Why couldn’t people walk just a few steps further to the shopping cart storage area? When I lived here, several times a day I would take the abandoned carriages and return them where they belonged.  Today was no exception!

The maintenance crew greeted me with hugs and smiles, reminding me of the relationships I had built beyond that of other residents. I recalled the late night cake parties at the front desk, the incredible smart women who lived in this building, and the feeling that we all watched out for one another.

The memories kept coming:  I recalled when three of us traveled to Philly to see Pope Francis, four of us went to Manhattan to be on the Rachel Ray Show, and a group of us celebrated Helen’s retirement, our favorite concierge of all time. We all dressed up with wigs and masks of Helen’s face and did this funny recitation, “Please, Helen, Please Don’t Go!”  So many wonderful memories’ I couldn’t wait to see everyone.

In a high SUCCESSTROGEN mode of  keeping relationships strong, I carefully planned   breakfasts, lunches and dinners each day with one friend at a time. I am happy to say that most are today as I remember them from a few years ago…bright, active, and grateful for all that is. A few have moved on to nursing homes,  one friend died this week while I was here, and sad to say, a few others died before I had a chance to say goodbye.

But one friend, Julio, was nowhere to be found. We met because we both had routines that intercepted every Sunday. Julio swept the sidewalk at Classico, an outdoor cafe. Early Sunday morning he would power wash the sidewalk, pick up hundreds of  cigarette butts and bits of broken glass carelessly left behind by the Saturday night crowd.  He worked hard,  cleaning the area as though he was preparing for a visit from the King of  his native country, Mexico. I often worked along side of him as we chatted. Only when  there were no more butts anywhere and all the pillows were in place, did he go home.

Julio and I became friends..two people, with entirely different lives but a shared value set about hard work. I looked for him on Sunday but there was someone else in his place.

“Where’s Julio?” I asked rather abruptly as though the young man had done something to my friend.

“Mam?” he asked.

“Julio, my friend who used to do this job. ” I said.

He  just shook his head and got in his car.   As he  drove off, I couldn’t help but notice the butts under the furniture and the crooked pillows left behind. I discarded the butts, moved a few chairs so they would allow for better conversation for the lunch crowd, and  straightened the pillows, just as Julio and I had done so many times together.

Julio,  I don’t know where you are.  But I think often of our chats about doing a job well,  thoroughly and being proud of what we do.  I miss the chats and I miss you.


Lap 13

“What happened?”, that is the question that haunted me recently after my morning swim.   A more specific follow-up question is:  When did I develop a selfish side?

My awareness occurred during lap 13 which shall now forever be embedded in my mind. I swim every morning. I usually do water aerobics for about 30 minutes and then swim laps.  My mom was a championship swimmer “way back when”, but that gene is one I did not inherit.  However I am drawn to the water and perhaps that is a way of staying connected to her. I am not a good swimmer, certainly not a pretty one, but I love my 60 minute daily swim far more than any other exercise I do.

At Washington Sports Club,  there are four lanes in the pool, carefully roped off by heavy plastic ropes, suggesting that each swimmer stay in her lane.  I am a believer of the “lane” concept. Beyond swimming, it refers to one of my basic values:  “staying in my lane” if you will, where I can excel. Every now and then I step “out of my lane” and  try something new, like learning to speak a new language, but find myself happy to retreat back to my lane as mom, gram, Professor O’Neil, and Social Committee Chair. In my lane I am at my best,  confident, comfortable, and happy.

On the morning in question,  I was literally in my lane doing my laps and as I approached the wall preparing for a turn on Lap 13, I saw a man standing outside the pool looking to see where he could fit in. “Oh No!” I thought to myself. “I don’t like to share a lane.”  I pretended to not notice him. I checked the other lanes and found they were all  occupied. Surely one of the other swimmers would offer to share their lane! I,who meets and greets strangers on the street every day, deliberately never made eye contact. with this man. I did my turn, and kept on going on to Lap 13, at a faster pace than I ever remember swimming.  It was as though I was swimming far away from that guy, or perhaps more accurately said, ” far away from the right thing to do. “–not like me, not at all like me!

On my walk home, I could not get my mind off what had occurred. When did I get so selfish that I couldn’t so much as share a lane with another swimmer? I always think of myself as a generous person , but not this time. No this time I was downright selfish.

I couldn’t help but wonder:  Was this an isolated decision or were there other selfish moments lately? I couldn’t answer that question but I will continue to search hard. A high SUCCESSTROGEN woman takes care of herself (makes choices that work for her) but does so with full acknowledgement of its impact on others around her (the swimmer looking for a lane). If I find other examples, well then that is not the woman I wish to be and I will make the changes I need to make.

And so I am off to visit a friend, will share this story with her and she will “let me off the hook” by declaring that I am not selfish.  She will back her statement up by several examples of things I  did years ago when I lived here that she benefitted from directly.  But you see, my belief is that whether I am selfish or not is not determined by what I did in the past, but rather by what I do each new moment and my moment before Lap 13 I decided to be selfish.


Christmas Poem 2017


On the 1st day of Christmas, I was sure as I could be

That the most important part of my life is my incredible family.


On the 2nd day of Christmas, I quickly glanced around

And smiled at my good fortune to live in Bethesda, downtown.


On the 3rd day of Christmas it was easy for me to see

How many incredible people live here in The Darcy.


On the 4th day of Christmas what quickly came to me

Is how much we have grown: 17 members on our Social Committee!


On the 5th day of Christmas, we all need to realize

That it’s in the giving, not the getting, that is the real prize.


A 6th day of Christmas brought to my mind

my long-standing dream that everyone in the world would be kind.


A 7th day of Christmas warns us to take care of our health

Far more important than focusing on our financial wealth.


An 8th day of Christmas reminds us that we are not alone,

There are those who are hungry, there are those without a home.


Being inclusive and tolerant, living without much hullabaloo

Is what the 9th day of Christmas tells us to do.


The 10th day is for being present and living a purposeful life

Being a model parent, a faithful husband or a loving wife.



The 11th day says to be joyful, spread cheer all around

Be happy and grateful, our feet solidly on the ground.

And the 12th day offers a wish from me to you

May you be blessed in 2018 in all that you do.




Merry Christmas to you all!

Mary Ann O’Neil

Christmas Poem 2017






The Junk Drawer

My friend just stopped by to drop off a NY Times article she thought I would enjoy. She said she didn’t have time to chat because today was the day she was going to clean out her junk drawer. The door no sooner closed behind her and I found myself standing in front of my junk drawer, aghast! It appeared that everything I ever owned had found its way to the perfect hiding place.  Surely  if I had found any one of these items on my coffee table or my precious new, navy-laminated desk, I would have tossed it out.

A junk drawer? In my very neat and well-organized apartment?  Heavens! Years ago I always had a junk drawer but back then there were way too many kids, a husband, a business to run, and a tennis competition to get to. Back then there was no time to clean out a junk drawer, as a matter of fact, I think I had several!

But today, I am retired, by myself, and I have all the time in the world to make sure a junk drawer never occurds. My OCD about keeping order just doesn’t allow for a junk drawer! Right now, it you were to open my refrigerator you would see all my water bottles, neatly in rows like soldiers, one behind another, labels to the front. The same is true of my yogurt containers, all in neat rows, like flavors with like flavors, allowing one to easily select the flavor of the moment.  Further, my socks are all paired and neatly arranged in my sock drawer, my shoes are organized by type (heels, clogs, sneakers, Jack Rogers, and the like. So how is it that a pizza cutter, an old sales receipt, post it pads, two screws,  pens, an outdated coupon, a UND laminated name card, scissors, a paper clip, and broken rosary beads  all gravitated together in one drawer.

And so the project of organizing the junk drawer began.  The first few items were easy throw away decisions: an outdated coupon,  a used theater ticket, an old sales receipt from Pottery Barn for furniture I purchased when I moved here to Bethesda. But then I came upon the broken Rosary beads from my visit to Philadelphia with Helen and Leah to see the Pope. With tears in my eyes I recalled a very meaningful and faith-driven weekend. I miss Helen and Leah and thought about planning some sort of weekend reunion with those women who were once part of my daily life.  My Notre Dame lanyard reminded me of a workshop I delivered there for Catholic school coaches, as well as the football games we enjoyed while Michael Jr, was a UND student. Again, more tears. A theater ticket from Thurgood, an incredible look into the mind of Thurgood Marshall, a ribbon left behind by my granddaughter, and a photo of Michael, my former spouse had also made their way to the drawer.  How did these very special things end up here in a so-called junk drawer?

I couldn’t throw out the photo, the Rosary beads, the lanyard, or the theater ticket…they weren’t junk, they were…um, uh,…they were part of my story. So what am I to do with them? I looked around my small apartment and could not find a suitable place for any one of them. And then the only logical thing came to my mind: rename my junk drawer.  I went to the trash and retrieved the furniture sales receipt, the theater ticket that led me to better understand a very conservative mind.  I left the  old screws right there in the trash because I could not remember their significance.  My new “Special Things” drawer looks the same as its predecessor, but now the things that are in there belong there and nowhere else. As I closed the drawer, I realized how much pleasure opening the Special Things drawer brought me, I will have to do so more often.

Women with High SUCCESSTROGEN are organized because they need to be in order to do all that they do.  But they, too, allow themselves the luxury of a Special Things Drawer where stuff just lands, not junk , but really good stuff that is part of their story. The stuff in this draw  cannot be organized or labeled, nor can it be discarded. But it can bring them back in time occasionally, to recall parts of their story that reminds them of how they got to today.

Have you thought about taking a trip down memory lane lately and reviewed the contents of your junk drawer?

“Street Kids”, the 2nd in a Series on My Trip to Zambia

“Love Works.” You read this truth the other day in my Successtrogen blog. But you already knew that Love works because you have experienced that truth over and over again in your lifetime.  The love of family, the love of a friend or even that of a service provider helping you get through a difficult challenge has validated that love works.  When one person is kind to another, the world at least for that moment is gentle and calm and we feel renewed hope that all will be well again some time soon.

In Zambia the young children I told you about also know that Love Works,  as they are thriving living at the school surrounded by a loving staff and frequent volunteer visitors.  They receive love easily and give love just as easily. Grateful for being rescued from their previous orphan or homeless status, no one has to convince them that love works.

However, another population in Zambia, the “street kids”  are less inclined to believe that “Love Works”, because no one has rescued them, no one has offered them adoption. No one seems to treat the “street kids” as though their lives matter. The thought of these children leaves me literally haunted.

The “Street kids” of Zambia are 13 – 18 years old and seem to have been abandoned by their world. They do not have jobs, a family, a roof over their head, or even the remote possibility that any of these things will happen for them, ever. These kids are easily recognizable as they are usually seen carrying a flattened cardboard box, one they used for shelter the previous night and one they plan on using for shelter every night.  As they struggle every single day to find food  to stay alive, I am wondering what on earth motivates them to stay alive.  The street kids are like Peter Pan’s “Lost Boys” without Peter; most are afflicted with HIV/aids, many are addicted to drugs. There is no light or happiness whatsoever in their eyes. They are hungry, their clothes are dirty, their shoes are worn. They smell badly. Their teeth are rotted and many of them have open lesions on their skin. They have little energy.

The only apparent hope for the “street kids” is at the Chisome Center, a 7am – 3pm center where they can get a shower, a meal and hang out in a safe place.   The director, an incredible young man, Jason Stansbury, from Philadelphia  has dedicated his life to helping these kids. Jason is the missing  link, perhaps the equivalent of Peter Pan to the Lost Boys.  He does provide the love and kindness the street kids need; he “gets” them, he speaks their language, he cares for them. Jason welcomes them every day as long as they are drug free. He educates them about drugs and life, but I am told  that for whatever unfathomable reason, Jason is not permitted to provide  overnight care, and so at 3pm the “street kids” grab their cardboard boxes and head for the streets to repeat the same awful experience they had the night before.


You do not need to visit Zambia to imagine what these kids do on the streets all night long until 7am when they can return to Chisome. I met a 13-year-old girl who said very little but  wrote her story on a white board. Her story tells of losing both parents and her home, and her current life on the streets. I choked up as I read  what she does several times a night for what equates to no more than pennies, a story that continues to haunt me.

On the way back from the Chisome Center, I silently asked God “Why?”, and since I am not sure I have a right to question God, I quickly thank Him for sending Jason to the “Street kids.”  At least for 8 hours a day, they are safe and have some sense of home and belonging. I have added Jason Stansbury to my grateful list.

I am learning quickly that I cannot necessarily fix all that I wish to fix before my last breath.  Knowing I have little to no influence on the Zambian government to argue for the rights of the “street kids”, I can perhaps help Jason with the kids while they are at his center. I have emailed Jason and asked what we might send that will make the days of the street kids a little brighter. My 3  grandchildren will organize a drive in their school, Westtown near Philadelphia.  I found out quite by accident that Jason Stansbury happens to be a graduate of Westtown School so I am sure the students, teachers, and parents will be supportive of any attempts to help him.

Be grateful that your children and  grandchildren will likely always have a roof over their heads, food on the table, clean clothes, dental and medical care as needed because “Love Works” for them.  I am happy that Love Works for your children/grandchildren and mine, and for the young kids at the Children’s Resource Center in Zambia.  I only wish I could say that  Love works for the “street kids” in Zambia.


Love Works, the First in a Series on My Trip to Zambia



“Love Works” is the underlying theme of Mothers Without Borders, an organization that has saved hundreds upon hundreds of vulnerable and orphaned children in Zambia. Kathy Headlee, Founder/CEO shares what she believes to be a truth:

“Love works,at all times and in all things and in all places; and it’s the only thing that does.”

This truth is what convinced Kathy to leave the comforts of her US home and go to Zambia, lease property, and start a school for children in need of love. She has worked through all sorts of hurdles to create a safe place where Zambian children  can live safely, eat regularly, become educated, and hopefully change what could have been to a healthy, productive life for each child.

This truth is what encouraged other educated Zambians to join Kathy and commit their love as teachers, staff, and volunteers at the school.  This truth is what encouraged other Zambian social service agencies to partner with Kathy so that the needs of Zambian children could be met at each stage of their development.  This truth catches the attention of groups of US women volunteers every year to go to Zambia for Mothers Without Borders, and share their love.

And  this same truth is what encouraged me to go to Zambia this past June.

There were 28 of us in Zambia last month, ranging in age from 13 to 72.  We shared 3 bedrooms and 4 tents, 3 bathrooms with no hot water, and had virtually no privacy.  We started each day by 8 am after a  hard-boiled egg for breakfast, headed out to one site or another, and ate our lunch, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, in the back of an old army truck.  But this trip clearly wasn’t about the comforts of our living space, or the food  we ate.  This trip was about experiencing the truth, that Love Works.

Each day we brought love to infants, children, teens, and women of Zambia, to make their lives a little easier that day.  We spent time with the children, read books and playing games.  We taught the women how to embroider and purchased some handcrafts they made to help them provide for their families. The joy-filled women sang and danced for us.  I learned later that day that most have or have been impacted by HIV/Aides, and most do not know if they will be able to feed their children the next day.  Young children entertained us with their lively songs and  dance, and then blew me away by the poignant poetry they wrote about the poverty, HIV/Aides, and the hunger they live with. “How did this happen?” I silently asked God on the truck ride back that day. I am still waiting for the answer.

While I remain saddened by what I saw and learned in Zambia, I want you to know, the children and the women we met are not sad.  Somehow they exude joy regardless of being plagued by sickness and poverty.   I was quickly reminded how miserable I was a few months back when I stubbed my toe.

The Zambian women and children are not complaining, much less about a stubbed toe!  You could literally see the joy in their eyes as our old army truck pulled through the school gate and the children ran towards the truck.   They sang their praises to God  and they danced.  They welcomed us,  “Mzungus”, the white-faced visitors,  and hugged us freely.  They laughed and teased just like my grandchildren do.  They are grateful for the things we bring and the time we spend with them. Love Works.

In school they learn with passion.  The teaching model is one of  repetition. The teacher recites the times table and the children repeat what they heard, over and over again.  The children do not  get distracted even when we walk in to the classroom during one of their lessons. They are intent on learning, on improving their lives.

Please pray for the children in Zambia, and when you get a moment read about Mothers Without Borders, https://motherswithoutborders.org/. Kathy is an incredibly strong woman, a leader that inspires  and makes things happen, saving and improving lives.  If you can, consider a donation, as I have personally seen for myself that donations go directly to serve the children and improve their lives.

Love Works.


Rocks in your Back Pack

I often find myself running a concern through one of my sons,  Michael Jr. While he is not a practicing attorney, his law school education truly taught him invaluable critical thinking skills.  As a result, when faced with a problem, he   “nets things out” basing his opinion on facts not emotions,  quickly gets to the bottom line of what needs to be done, and takes action. He is a tremendous resource for me especially since I do not have even a glimmer of that skill set.

My lack of critical thinking skills also describes  one of my clients,  a young woman struggling to get her life on an even keel.  We spend considerable time on the phone going over what she wishes to change to improve her life, yet something happens from the point of our agreed upon plan on the phone to actual execution of the plan. More specifically, there is no execution. I shared with Michael my  frustration with her lack of progress and my lack of success with her, and he said quickly and simply,

“Some people add rocks to your back pack.”

Interesting, I thought. Yes, some people make our lives more difficult, more cumbersome, actually heavier. We can attempt to work with them carefully so that they create a plan they are comfortable with, but we cannot make them follow the plan.  Maybe for them just having someone to listen to their plight gets them though the immediate struggle and that is enough. I will continue to be there to listen and will have to recognize my limitations to do much more.

We can all think of one or more people in our lives who “add rocks to our back pack”, but all of a sudden I am questioning if I  add rocks to someone else’s back pack. I will give that more thought. I do not want to add weight to anyone’s life with my own concerns about the chaos in the world, with my anxiety about traveling, or my increasing concern about the aging process. Women with high successtrogen use critical thinking skills to resolve their own worries and concerns, and rather than just complain, they seek the resource they need to resolve their own  issue.

How about you, are you weighed down by the rocks someone else has handed you? Oh and by the way, are  you in any way adding weight to someone else’s back pack?