In everyone’s life they have someone they look up to. Mine was one of the greatest women I have ever known. In light of the recent milestones women are achieving as they break the glass ceiling and with it being Women’s History Month- there is no time better than now to write and dedicate an article to her and women all across the world. Natalie Baron Swift was someone who left a positive impression on everyone she crossed paths with in her life. She was kind, faithful, full of light, and always had open arms ready to welcome anyone and everyone.
As a graduate of the class of 1986 from Saint Mary’s Academy Bay View, Natalie formed bonds with many of her classmates that would grow to become lifelong relationships. Her classmates from the class of ‘86 describe her as the type of woman who always made you feel welcomed in her presence, someone who was always there to laugh with you to the point where you had to catch your breath, especially if practical jokes were involved, someone who loved being apart of any group and had an uncanny ability to understand everyone around her. She accepted everyone for who they were- with no judgement ever, and always made the conversation about those around her, never herself.
She was a student who excelled in the classroom and as an athlete. Growing up she was an avid runner and was always on the track team in her schools. One of her fellow classmates describes her as being “as fast as the wind” and says that whenever she ran it looked effortless. From childhood through adulthood she would frequently walk and run through town. With the consistent muscle being built on her legs, in 2012 during her second semester of nursing school, her left leg being significantly weakened to the point where her walking was impaired, was a sign that something was not right. It was then that she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS.
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The progressive degeneration in ALS eventually leads to the death and loss of the body’s motor neurons, which gives the brain the ability to initiate and control muscle movement. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed, eventually leading to death.
In October of 2019 Natalie, at only 52 years old, lost her nine year battle to ALS. After spending most of my life growing up in her home with her six children as some of my closest and greatest friends, she became a motherly figure to me. With that being said, her passing took the same toll on me as losing my own mother or grandmother would. After saying goodbye to her, everything became a reality and the lessons that she taught me that were in my subconscious were seen in a bright light right in front of me. These lessons were messages that I think should be shared with all people, but especially women in today’s day and age, as we continue to thrive in the world.
Most of the wisdom that Mrs. Swift shared with me was taught to me after she was diagnosed with ALS, or at least that was when I began to pay more attention to it. When she first heard the news of her diagnosis, I remember hearing about how she handled it. She shared with someone close to her that she felt sad at the time, gave herself five minutes to feel sad and then moved on. Right from the get-go, I marveled at her positive attitude in face of the disease. From this simple reaction, she inadvertently taught me that fear immobilizes you in the face of adversity. Our thoughts are essential in framing our life as difficulties are placed in front of us, but how we think and react to them is what will determine our outlook and outcome.
Being able to understand that there is more than what can be seen is a message that was taught to me that I think all women and men should start to prioritize when they are meeting people throughout their life. Due to the patterns in history and popular “social norms” about meeting a partner, the first thing people notice about someone is their outer shell appearance; and if it isn’t something that appeals to us, they usually are not on your mind anymore. Growing up and seeing Natalie’s outer shell change from a petite fully functional and physically able individual to someone who was immobile in an electric scooter made me realize that you never truly know someone until you give them an honest chance. I started to become less concerned with how others, and I looked, on the outside and started focusing more on what people spoke about, their emotions, and the truth and ingenuity behind what they preached and practiced. The arbitrary things that used to consume more of my focus than desired, became miniscule when I began to meet people and still meet people today. She taught me to be unapologetically myself, to look deeper as I walk through life, and accept everyone I meet for who they are- inside and out.
Mrs. Swift’s degree of sapience is what fueled the most important lesson I have learned in my life, and the message that she tried her best to share with everyone who knew her story. Through her quiet strength, she always preached the bible verse 2 Corinthians 5:7, “Live by Faith, Not by Sight.” Going hand in hand with the unneeded room filled with fear, faith and fear cannot coexist, and we must navigate the world solely on our trust in God and on our belief in the unseen. After battling with ALS for nine years, a disease where the life expectancy rate is two to five years, Natalie, her friends and family all realized that no one truly knows when our time is up, so we had to keep moving, even when we didn’t know where, and when, her path was taking her. Her faith, trust, and confidence in God’s plan is what kept her moving everyday.
Jack Thorne once said, “Those we love never truly leave us. There are things that death cannot touch.” The passing of Mrs. Natalie Baron Swift brings sadness upon many people, but it also brings into perspective all of the lives she has touched and changed. I thank Mrs. Swift for teaching me how to live by faith and not by sight, and for shaping me into who I am today. She is a woman of the utmost character who has left footprints on my heart, and the hearts of everyone who knew her and her story. She will always be in our hearts and by our side. Today is a time when women need other women the most, so I encourage all girls and women to find a female role model to look up to, and teach them lessons to guide them through life as Mrs. Swift did for me.