Take a minute and think back over your life. Think about those people (friends, parents of friends, coworkers, church members, etc) that, even if your time knowing them was brief, impacted your life for the better through their words and actions. Do you have someone in mind?
Last week, one of those people from my life died.
John Orris was the father of one of my best friends from high school, Julie. I remember evenings spent at her house, playing capture the flag or sitting around the bonfire just laughing and having a good time. And I remember how full of love and laughter that house was. Which, I imagine, was one of the reasons I was friends with Julie. Her home and her family made me feel welcome, loved, and safe... kinda like I felt in my own home.
Her dad was a big part of that. He wasn't around every time I went over, but on a few very memorable occasions, I recall spending time chatting with him instead of going outside to hang out with my friends. One of my clearest memories was one evening when I somehow got caught up in conversation with him about literature and books. I had JUST finished reading Memoirs of a Geisha. John, whom I believe was familiar with the idea of the book, but hadn't read it, brought up some of the "deeper" aspects of the book, surrounding prostitution and an entire culture of women that were raised to be, basically high priced hookers. Julie came in and asked "whatcha talkin about?" to which her dad responded "prostitutes". Julie rolled her eyes and said something along the lines of "leave it to you to discuss sex with my friends." And then she scolded ME for enabling her dad to embarass her like that.
But what struck me as amazing about this man was how he actually spoke to me like an adult. My own parents would discuss themes and undercurrents of a book, but many of my friends parents didn't feel comfortable doing the same. And the result is that teenagers generally feel like they are being talked down to. That ONE conversation has forever stuck in my memory as the first where an adult treated me... like an adult that was capable of more than superficial thought.
I know that might not sound like an incredibly impactful thing, but for a smart kid living in a rural town in Pennsylvania where many residents grew up there (and never left), and where everything tended to be black and white or right and wrong (with little room for perspective), John introduced the concept of healthy debate and the fact that there is alot of gray. John and Beth (his wife) had lived around the world (even the middle east!) and I remember thinking "wow! that's amazing/scary/crazy/awesome!" But I think that fact planted the seed in my brain that it was possible... and that I might one day want to do the same.
I'm sure that this man never, ever realized how much I respected and admired him. I'm sure my friend Julie has no idea the memories I have of her father. But this man is one of a handful that I will remember as fondly as any member of my own family. He helped teach me to question instead of accept. He taught through his actions about living a christian life. And he demonstrated that life is an adventure to be lived, embraced and enjoyed.
So it is with deepest sadness that I say goodbye to John. I am saddened that such a bright light is gone. But I rejoice that he can rest after a long, long battle with cancer (acute myleoid lukemia). And more than anything, I wish I could be there to hug his family and celebrate a life well lived.