My cherished friend Sharon Parish
My personal remembrance of my cherished friend Sharon Parish, who passed away ten years ago. I wrote this for her daughter Lily Parish’s “Whispers,” a collection of stories about the profound uniqueness of her Mom written by those of us whose lives she so deeply touched.
I first met Sharon Parish at Way of a Warrior (WOW), an intensive week-long workshop, that took place near Dahlonega, Georgia in 1988. Late in that week, Sharon and I were paired in an exercise during which we were to look one another in the eyes for what seemed like an eternity. As I held my gaze, I felt an extraordinary connection, a deep intimacy, an overpowering sense of love that I clumsily endeavored to relate as we shared our experience during the last part of the exercise. From that time on, Sharon’s dynamic and spirited presence was embedded into my being and remains there today.
I returned to WOW almost every summer for years after that, in part because of what trainer Ann McMaster had said: “I want to live the other fifty-one weeks of my life like this week at WOW.” The level of truth-telling, the bold support offered and received, the joy of knowing you’re exactly where you want to be doing exactly what you want to be doing. All of this and more. Yet, a big part of what drew me there was the woman who’d now become WOW coordinator, Sharon Parish—her inclusive way of leading, her gentle yet firm presence, her way of just joyfully being Sharon.
When I moved to Austin in 1992, I quickly became a surrogate member of the Parish household, which included Tom and Sharon, who were married, and their daughter Lily, who was not yet two-years old. Living under the same roof were Sharon’s former husband Stanley and their son Justin, who was eleven-years-old. It was a unique arrangement, and it seemed to work quite well for all of them. I almost always joined them for their weekly Saturday night gatherings to share food, films, Star Trek and camaraderie.
Sharon was a powerful and compelling spirit who possessed an intuitive ability to draw out the unique gifts that individuals had to share with our community. Under her aegis, we worked to make Austin a vital More To Life community, we volunteered with the inmates at Bastrop Federal Correctional Institution (the nearby federal prison), we enrolled More to Life grads in Way of a Warrior, and we organized the Great Texas Campouts at Bastrop State Park that drew More to Life grads from all over Texas.
This was a time during which I was getting clear about who I was and what I really wanted in my life. And one thing became readily apparent: I wanted a relationship with a woman with Sharon Parish’s attributes—her openheartedness, her sense of humor, her way of connecting with people, her undeniability, her generosity, her willingness, her adventurousness, her spirituality, her wisdom and, yes, her physical beauty.
A few years later this woman came into my life in the form of Shonnie Lavender, my lovely wife, who in so many ways reminds me of Sharon. And why shouldn’t she? Sharon provided the model on which I put my focus. And, magnanimously, the Universe responded.
I didn’t see much of Sharon or her family after Shonnie and I moved to Asheville in 1997, though Sharon and Lily visited us for a few days in 2003. However, I’d put the date of Sharon’s 50th birthday party on my calendar early in 2006, and planned for us to be at the celebration in Austin on her special day—October 28.
I remember the shock of hearing about Sharon’s heart failure on May 16th. And as Sharon hung on for a few of weeks, the first thing I did each day was go to the blog Tom had created to find out how she was doing. I placed a photo of Sharon on my altar. I prayed. I sent healing energy to her. I visualized her suddenly waking up and acting as if nothing had really happened. But ironically, the heart of the most openhearted woman I have known had failed her, as if she had worked that organ of her body so often and so intensely that it just gave out.
I felt my heart breaking as I said goodbye to Sharon at the funeral home in Austin on June 4. I let go of the notion that somehow it was all a bad dream. I felt the regret of the words I wished I’d spoken, things I wished I’d done. I cried the tears I’d been holding back. I hoped she’d heard my words when I told her I loved her and bid farewell.
While Sharon is no longer with us in her physical presence, she lives on. How many of you can recount stories about what a undeniable force Sharon Parish was and how she touched your life? For me, she lives on in the man I’ve become—because of her encouragement to be who I’m really meant to be, because of her gentle nudges when she noticed I was off the path, because of her love for me regardless of how I showed up.
Though the memories have faded a bit, I will always cherish my times with Sharon. And I will carry her in my heart . . . now and throughout my entire life.