Life Lessons From Far Away

You know that game where you stand facing your opponent with your hands resting, palm to palm, on top of theirs, and the goal is to anticipate their move and pull back before they can smack the ever-loving daylights out of your hands? It’s a silly little game, but it can get un-silly quickly if you’re not paying attention. I played this game with one of my closest male friends in college.  It was late, we all were bored, so we roamed over to the local playground (don’t all well-adjusted 20-year-olds hang out at playgrounds after dark?). It started innocent enough, but anyone who knows me well, knows that I hate to lose no matter how the odds are stacked against me, so I kept playing this game determined to get a few hard smacks in. I don’t remember how long we played, but it was a humid Nashville summer night. An interesting thing happens to your skin in a sweaty climate—you bruise like a peach; however, it was so dark out there and I was so blindly determined that neither of us bothered to notice that my hands had started to swell and turn five shades of purple.  The light caught my hands, I realized what was happening, and we stopped, obviously, but not in time to stop the swelling. Within a half-hour my hands were almost double in size and covered entirely with black and blue splotches.  My best friend’s mom happened to be visiting us that weekend, and after the shock wore off, she gave me aspirin, shoved my hands in a pot of ice, and sternly scolded me that I should never, ever play these games with boys.

That is a prime example of the Lechner in me. Lechners are fiercely competitive. My dad taught me to only play to win, and even though he always won, I never stopped trying. This is the part where he would interject that I should be smart enough to stop before self-inflicted injury, but I guess that moronic display was just the Stephanie in me. A few other things about Lechners is that they are insanely sarcastic and often quite clever. Anyone who has been around me, my dad or my grandfather can attest to this very obvious genetic trait. But what about the parts of me passed down from my mom? Where is the Fara in me? On most days, I would tell you that I’m just like my dad, with a more liberal bent, but in honor of my mom’s upcoming birthday, I started thinking that there is so much to learn from this woman.

Life Lessons from Fara (pronounced far-a, as in “far away”):

  1. Be a generous hostess.  Growing up, my friends were always thoroughly amused when they came over. The exchange would usually go something like this:

Mom: “Hi! Are you hungry? Can I get you something to eat?

Friend: Oh, no thanks. I just ate, and I’m not really hungry.

Mom: “Oh alright.” (she exits and 5 minutes later returns with a full plate of manicotti)

You will never feel unwelcome in her care. The woman will not rest until your belly is full, your bed is made, and you feel completely at home in your surroundings.

  1. Be good to your friends…..even if they don’t always know how to return the favor.  If you are lucky enough to be friends with my mom, you have a loyal, generous friend for life. She will never forget a birthday, miss a funeral for an extended relative, and she will be there in any crisis, but beyond that, she will nurture you in ways that most people are too selfish to do, and she expects nothing in return.
  2. Be kind to animals. In my lifetime, my family has rescued 8 cats, 3 dogs, and 2 very annoying birds (not to mention the countless fish and hamsters we bought over the years). She and I once stayed up round the clock for 6 weeks bottle-feeding a litter of abandoned kittens.  She has taught me that you love your pets like you love your family because they, too, are family. Her heart bleeds for animals, and it would be easy to dismiss her as a crazy cat lady, but here’s a good example of why the rest of us just haven’t caught on to her ways yet:

We took a day trip a few years back and asked my friend Justin to watch the 6 cats and blind dog for the day. When he dropped by, he found a VERY detailed 2-page letter giving him specific instructions on how to care for each pet. At the end of the letter, she told him to place Lilly, our blind mini-dachshund at the time, on the bed facing the window and to “tell Sammy (one of the cats) to take care of Lilly when he leaves.” Crazy, right? Well to this day, Justin swears he was so curious to find out what would happen that he put Lilly on the bed facing due north, and with a puzzled expression muttered the words, “Sammy, take care of Lilly????” I kid you not, that cat came out from under the bed, jumped up next to Lilly and curled up right beside her. The woman has actual magical powers.

  1. Persevere through hard times when possible, laugh when not.  I am lucky both of my parents ascribe to this philosophy, and it makes sense I’m pursuing comedy. My mom has been sick for most of my life, and there was a stretch where the medicine she was on made her a little more clumsy than usual. Being sick for so long, it would have been easy to feel discouraged and hopeless after a couple of accidents. Instead, that year, my dad bought my mom a helmet as a gag gift for Christmas, and I can’t remember a time where we all laughed harder than in that moment. Seriously, the pictures are priceless.
  2. Love unconditionally, even if it hurts. It would take me too long to expound on this one, but needless to say, my mom has been through a lot, more than most people face in one lifetime, but she will always support and love her children. There has not been a time when my mom wasn’t my biggest fan. She will tell strangers about her daughter out in New York City, and she’ll remind me periodically how smart she thinks I am (she keeps insisting that I put on my resume that I graduated 4th in my high school class despite me telling her that is both irrelevant and inappropriate.) She told me that any dream was possible for me, and that even though she’d miss me, she knew that I’d be ok out here on my own chasing those dreams.

You see, somewhere along the line, I started to think that to be a strong woman, you needed to be able to run as fast as the boys or be the smartest one in the room (it’s worked out for me in some respects, not so much in others).  Strength, I thought, meant taking care of myself and never showing any sign of weakness, but my mom has shown me otherwise. A strong woman is one who is kind and generous in the face of adversity. She is nurturing and selfless, and will not rest until the people around her are cared for and deeply loved. She is not afraid to embrace the sad realities of life and admit that sometimes there are problems too big to face alone.  My dad is devoted to taking care of her, and lately that is more necessary as her health wanes, but this has never for one second made her weak. There are some people just naturally destined to be mothers, and Fara is one of those women.

I’ve always battled my tom-boy inclinations. I wish I could say that I never again challenged a boy to an arm wrestle, or stubbornly fought for autonomy to my own detriment, but there are moments when I have hope that I could one day be the kind of woman my mom has shown herself to be. That same summer in college, I was running around fixing up things and making dinner for all of my friends. I don’t remember doing anything special, but in the middle of the hustle and bustle, a friend stopped me and said, in earnest and out of nowhere, that I was the most feminine woman she knew. I laughed in the moment because it seemed ludicrous, but looking back, I would like to think in that brief moment she just happened to see the Fara in me.