Friday, October 9, 2015

A Hero's Goodbye

I’m at the age. That age where friends’ parents are aging and our conversations always include those inquiries - about care-taking, care-giving, frailty, illness and questions of "what can I do?" Most of my friends still have their parents – or at least one parent. I’m one of the few who has already learned that hard goodbye. With one particular friend, these conversations were all too frequent this last year.  It's so hard to lose someone - even when expected. It's hard to lose someone who was just larger than life – even in his humble day to day life.

Today, we lost one of those men. Today, we lost Jerry Parr. 

Jerry, or Mr. Parr (at least until I was in my 30’s), was dad to one of my oldest friends. She was a neighborhood friend, a school friend, an adult friend, a mom friend and now an old friend (and I mean that in the best possible way.)  We have stories. We have stories that we laugh about and ones we have never told anyone. She was the first of my friends to have children – and seeing her girls as adults is astonishing to me. She is an awesome mom – and I’ve sought her advice more than once. Our families are in the background of our friendship.  Families who knew us well, watched us grow. Parents we made fun of and then promptly grew up to emulate, whether we liked it or not.

Many call their dad a hero but my friend truly can. You see, her dad saved President Reagan’s life. On that fateful March day, Jerry pushed the President into the car and gave the directive to get to the hospital. I remember that day. The news; the fear of not knowing if Mr. Parr was okay. The discomfort of not knowing what to say to my friend.  I remember the relief of finally knowing he was okay. Of course, my emotions were nothing compared to what his family went through.

But my real memories of Jerry are greater than what they show on the news or write in the paper. I have a clear memory of being at the house and watching him go to get eggs from the chicken coop.  In a suit. Before he went to work protecting a President. Do you know what chickens smell like? And, that rooster - I believe he was the only one that liked that animal. They both shared a certain bravado.  But what I remember most is how happy he was to be gathering those eggs. He had a smile on his face and perhaps a spring in his step. 

I remember his laughter. I remember his stories. I remember him laughing at his own stories and jokes. One of my favorite memories is at the beach house with my friend, her husband and their two girls. Jerry announced his presence by arriving with a cooler full of…..a large snapping turtle found on the side of the road. He was thrilled and wanted to show his little granddaughters.  His daughter, who shared his gift for succinct communication, was clear that that particular animal was not welcome in the house. She may have used the word “foul” to describe it.  He was gleeful and just kept laughing. Always a tender heart, he ultimately released the beast into wood far outside the house. There was a massive storm that night, the lights went out.  Oh the stories he shared over cold beer and crabs and candlelight.

I remember visiting when my own dad was ill. I was always made to feel so welcome in their home. These were friends that had been around so long they were like family. These last few years, I have relished every post, every old picture, every anecdote shared by his daughters. I read his books cover to cover.

Naturally, Mini-Me knows about my friend and her family. In fact, Mini bears an uncanny resemblance to her daughter (Mini saw her wedding pictures and declared her the most beautiful bride ever.)  I told Mini-Me about Jerry, too.  She was duly impressed with Jerry and secretly thrilled that her mom knew a real hero. I may have been cool for a second or two.

Last summer, when I took Mini-Me back to DC, we went to my friend’s house, we went to their beach house. Mini squealed a bit to be in a real hero’s house. To her, this humble, well loved and lived in beach house may as well have been a castle. I could hear his laughter in each room.  Tonight, as I quietly sobbed at Jerry’s passing, Mini asked me what had happened. I told her that Mr. Parr had died.  She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Mom, we lost a real hero.”

Yes, Mini, we did.  We lost a hero to many – but a special family lost a husband, father and grandfather.  Our hearts ache for them.

Oh the stories among the stars tonight.

Rest In Peace, Jerry. You were well loved. You will be well missed.  May your memory always be for a blessing.

Jerry Studstill Parr
September 16, 1930 – October 9, 2015

For more information about this amazing man:

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tolerance is a two-way street

I want you to do something.  I want you to think about that friend you recently met for lunch, drinks or coffee – you laughed and laughed.  You made fun of your kids or your boss. You traded recipes. You are Facebook friends.  She has great decorating ideas for that weird corner in your living room and you helped her pick up that great chair she found on Craigslist.  You’ve talked about parenting, jobs, relationship woes, stress, periods, hot flashes, constipation and sex.  This is a good friend.

And then, that friend posts something on Facebook about politics or religion that is completely contrary to what you believe.  You’re puzzled – this is a person who you have always seen treat every person with respect and kindness, who has a diverse group of friends.  This is someone who has been in your home, gotten drunk with you, wiped your tears. How can this person believe this? How can they think this way?  Can you still be their friend?

We are living in what can be really divisive times.  People feel strongly about social issues, fiscal decisions and school curriculum.  Are we willing to cast aside friendships – strong and positive friendships – because we disagree on a few things? If so, what does that say about us? What message does that send to our children?

We teach our young children to share, to be respectful of others, to play with Suzy, Johnny, Sasha, River, Ravi and Bindi.  Well tell them to play nicely and not make fun of someone’s name, family or beliefs. We emphasize that it’s okay that our friends are different – it’s how we learn about different ways, different cultures, and different religions. And, at the end of the day, those differences – the color of their skin, the neighborhood they live in, their one mommy or two daddies doesn’t matter – they are nice kids, and fun to play with and you get along well. 

Why are we different as adults?

I look at my friends – and I have all kinds.  I have teacher friends, lawyer friends and a surprising number of doctor/nurse friends.  I have mom friends, dad friends, reporter friends and even one really cool judge friend.  My friends are creative, smart, hilarious, kind and witty. 

Some of my friends believe in one kind of God, some in another.  Some worship on Sunday – others on Saturday.  I’ve stood up for Brenda Starr in a Catholic wedding with a full mass (man, that was a lot of up and down in a loud taffeta dress) and danced the hora at Runners.  Some friends believe their home isn’t complete without a pet and others have never owned one (seriously, I don’t understand this at all but they are still my friends.) 

We have different tastes in movies and music and books – but through them I’ve seen, heard and read some great things I never would have picked out on my own.  I have vegetarian and vegan friends – gotten some great recipes.  I have friends that parent very differently than I do or those that are more my style. But we all love our kids.

My friends sit on both sides of the political aisle and for the most part can talk reasonably about why they feel that way.  Honestly, my friends believe many things (and seriously, based on the shit you guys share on Facebook – you believe almost anything. Are you really that gullible? Does anyone fact check????)

My point? My friends became my friends before I discovered some belief that does not align with mine or some weird interest that I don’t understand.   Should we stop being friends because they don’t vote the same way I do?  I’ve seen – more than once – someone on Facebook say, “This is really important to me and if you don’t believe the same way, unfriend me now.” 

Now let’s be clear – I’m not talking about those that spew hateful rhetoric at those who believe differently.  I’m not talking about criminal or legal issues (except for the whole guilty/not guilty on stuff like Casey Anthony – she is clearly guilty and anyone who disagrees is a douche…but can still be my friend.)  I’m talking about politics, faith-based decisions, football teams, bad calls from a referee, parenting philosophies, breast feeding and cloth vs disposable diapers.  These are the things I’ve seen cause people to absolutely lose their shit.

How can we expect anyone to respect our opinion – as different as it may be from theirs – if we don’t respect theirs?  How can we expect tolerance if we don’t practice tolerance (notice I said “practice” because sometimes this shit is hard!)  Our friends who do things differently offer us a great opportunity to learn more. Will I change my vote?  Will I leave my faith for theirs?  Highly unlikely but I will gain a better understanding of why they believe what they do and it’s likely, in the course of that conversation, I will hear and see glimmers of why we are friends in the first place.  In turn, they may gain a better understanding of my perspective.  More often than not, we can simply agree to disagree and continue laughing about something stupid our kids or our boss did.

Stretch is a good friend – I’ve spoken of her often (including here.)  I met her through a moms group that some of us were asked to leave (and others left so quickly there were skid marks) so we started our own covert snark fest.  We could not be more different.  She’s a tall willowy blond.  I am…well, not.  She is young, wildly creative with a hip husband, two awesome girls and a family hobby of racing things with engines at very high speeds. We have some different political philosophies but during a really great conversation in the very early stages of our friendship, she told me, “We both ultimately want similar things – we just go about getting there differently.”

So, as we head into a heated year of politics, hot topics, heated issues and endless opportunities to stomp our feet and declare our self-righteousness  – let’s take a deep breath, count to ten, recognize we are not likely to change the mind of those that feel strongly the other way nor are they going to change our mind.  Embrace what we do have in common and for the love of God people, fact check!

PS  - And, remember that friend I mentioned at the beginning of the post? Yeah, well, call that friend immediately and chat over a drink or three. If you can talk about poop, sex and gynecological issues then you can talk about your differences, move past them and continue a great friendship. Maybe that person will even become your Big Susan.