As I sat across from my dad at the dinner table tonight, and listened to him talk about his departed friend Tanaka, my eyes swelled with tears. I was flooded all at once with memories of my parents, and their innate championing of people that others tore down, dismissed, forgot, ignored, traded in, left behind or wouldn't give the time of day.
Earlier in the evening my pup and I went to my parent's house on an invitation for bar-be-qued meatloaf. When I arrived, my dad's elderly friend, Jerry, was also joining us for dinner. I thought nothing of it. I was delighted to see Jerry. We made small talk while we waited for the loaf to finish and my dad played Frisbee with my pup. Jerry was asking me about my job, and validating that I am lucky to enjoy my work. Jerry has a wife who has all but given up. Eats junk. Won't participate in life. And wants to live in a convalescent hospital where she won't have to do anything for herself anymore. That's not Jerry. He's got a robust sense of humor, and is a great story teller. He drinks a big glass of wine, pets my dog, smiles and laughs. He still goes to the gym!
Jerry is not the exception... You see, for all my life, my parents and their home has been a place of comfort and safety for some many. I remember my mom disengaging with people in her social groups because they were bullying (yes, adult women bullying another woman) a friend of hers. My mother and father have always seen the good in others, and welcomed everyone with open arms, a glass of wine and a listening ear. While realistic and certainly aware of others challenges and annoyances, they always see the goodness in others first. So when grown women were actively participating in belittling, gossiping and mistreating a friend of my mom's, she defended her, and disengaged with those women. I admire that. I respect that. That's integrity and courage. And any one of us would be lucky to call her their friend.
My dad is no different. He would (and has) give any person in need the shirt of his back. I can remember donations to my elementary school for equipment my teachers needed. I remember purchases of cases of girl scout cookies. And he is both generous and loyal as the day is long. On many occasions, my girlfriends came over to hang out with me, but ended up talking with my mom on the couch. To so many my parents have been surrogate parents and family. My parents, aside from raising me with so many now diminishing values, always championed others, engaged the disenchanted, and loved the people who needed it most.
Fast forward to today. Our family holidays are made up of a myriad of personalities and stories. Jerry is there. So is my dad's friend Ron, an immigrant to this country and a widower. And there's my mom's friend Jennifer and her daughter Emily who don't have much family in the area. Sometimes my friend Laurie is around the table with her bright smile and memorable laugh. Laurie recently lost both her parents. At our summer parties you find generations of families who come to our gatherings because it's now their tradition too. Occasionally our own blood family is there, but the majority of our get together are this beautiful, unique blended crew of people we fondly call our family. No one is ever turned away, even when they don't RSVP or when they show up unexpectedly. Somehow there is always just enough room around the table to squeeze in an extra place setting, and just enough food for everyone to leave with a full belly (even if my parents are suddenly "not that hungry"). Their deep sense of charity and generosity has made my childhood home a safe haven for so many. It's a place where memories are made, you are labeled family in an instant and greeted with a big hug and a warm smile always.
I guess tonight when my dad was talking about Tanaka and how sad and lonely the last few days of his life were because almost everyone else had walked away, I was thinking about what a good friend my dad was to him. Listening, supporting, over looking flaws, and being a friend... just being a friend. Be he's a good friend to sooooo many. And so is my mom. They are stunning people! You see, that's all we really have in life you know? All we really, truly have is each other. Stuff is stuff, money is money. But our people, those connections and friendships, those are what make meaning in our fleeting lives! And that is what makes my parents the richest two people I know.
With pride and respect,