Sherry: Life Lessons

I learned so many important life lessons from my Philip. The best lesson was learning to be me.

Philip loved me. He loved every thing about me and he taught me that I needed to love me as well. He encouraged me to speak my mind and to be me! My friends and even acquaintances that know me probably find it difficult to believe that there was a time that I didn’t speak my mind.

There was a time, when we were newly together, and after I left a miserable relationship that among other things, stifled my impulses and my thoughts, that I held my tongue and kept my feelings strangled within me. As I write this, it seems inconceivable that I allowed anyone to do that to me. Now it seems so foreign, so unlikely, so not me, but my Philip had much to do with that growth.

He loved my spunk, my funny side, which is another thing I didn’t know I had (of course, my family always thought I was funny, but I thought “they’re my family, of course, they find me humorous.” Now, I know that I’m occasionally funny in an entertaining way, not at all like my Philip’s humor. No, he was gifted in a way few of us are.

He taught me to love me. He taught me to appreciate all of me. He also taught me a very valuable lesson: to treat one’s losses as one would treat their accomplishments. I remember after an unsuccessful meeting with some HBO hierarchy I was feeling quite downtrodden when I heard Philip ask me, “where would you like to go for dinner? How does The Palm sound?”

Shocked, I turned to him and said, “The Palm, Philip? We didn’t get our gig, why would we go to The Palm?” He smiled his gentle smile and said to me, “Norma, we need to celebrate our losses as well as our successes. We’re celebrating the effort. We shouldn’t give the loss any importance. We’ll get what we need when we need it. In the meantime, we need to celebrate our losses just as we would our successes.” And so we did! We went to the famous Palm in NY and ate a four-pound lobster and we laughed and enjoyed every morsel of our meal. I learned a very valuable lesson which I have incorporated many times over.

In the beginning of us, I wasn’t sure how to treat Halloween. It was Halloween Eve; in 1977 that Philip had lost his ability to walk. I didn’t know if I should ignore the day, mention the day or experience the day, but leave it to my Philip, who always wanted to enjoy the day!

I have lots of fond memories of Halloween together. Several come to my immediate mind. One Halloween eve, we were editing our NBC documentary until late at night. We left the NBC offices and decided to go to a favorite Village haunt: Joanna’s Restaurant.

It became an attention getting restaurant almost from the moment it opened its doors. One of the reasons I loved it, was that it offered a “dessert sampler”: a plate filled with bites of their best desserts. Yum, even now so many years later, I can conjure a memory of the plate of delicious delectables and it makes me yearn to be there.

As we neared the restaurant and rounded the corner, we were nearly run over by a pregnant nun on roller-skates. When we walked into the restaurant it was jam packed with Halloween-garbed patrons all dressed in their Halloween-best costumes. That’s when a notable N.Y. newscaster, who like us, was not dressed in costume, but was clearly quite inebriated approached us and slapped Philip on his back.

“Great costume!” he shouted. In his good humor, Philip thanked him and we laughed. Obviously, he was referring to Philip’s wheelchair!

Years later we were invited to a costume party where all the guests were to dress like Hollywood characters from a movie. After great thought Philip decided on going as the Invisible Man.

He wore a mock turtleneck sweater and gloves. We ace-bandaged his head leaving his nostrils exposed along with his eyes. He wore dark sunglasses. He looked terrific. A few hours into the party and drunken woman arrived.

When she saw Philip, she made a beeline to him. We used to joke that drunken women always made their way to him. We never could figure out why, but without exception they always did. She came right over and with tears in her eyes she exclaimed, “Oh, you poor dear, you must have been in a terrible accident!” As I write this, I’m still laughing.

Another year we went to Scarlet O’Hara’s in our sweet hometown to celebrate the day. Again, everyone was in costume, including us. Being in a wheelchair always created a little more creativity. This year Philip decided to wear a satin vest-like top that came up to his neckline, but was sleeveless. He had the florist make him a wreath of greens to wear upon his head and he went as “The Fall of Rome”.

Such a funny man with a fabulous sense of humor who never, ever dwelled on woe.

In the 80’s we spent a lot of time in New York. It was also before cutout curbs. In fact, most curbs in the city were a huge step up or down. But never once did we approach a curb when a cabdriver, a truck-driver, or another pedestrian didn’t come to his rescue. Dozens of times truck-driver’s especially would stop their truck, jump down from their cabins and bounce him down the curb and up the opposite side!

New Yorkers have long been given a bad rap. Our experiences in New York have always been perfect and exceptional in many ways.

However, there have been many times when Philip was crossed streets he never intended to cross because some good-natured pedestrian wanted to ”help” and pushed him across major thoroughfares and boulevards in cities across the nation from Washington, D.C. to Hollywood, California.

Philip never told these good-intentioned folks; he just enjoyed the ride and when they were out of sight he’d make his way back to me. He didn’t want to hurt their feelings or dissuade them from helping someone else some other day.

I recall a sweet Spanish elevator driver in NBC’s Rockefeller Center building who instead of taking us to our designated 24th floor meeting, instead put his hands on Philip in prayer and took us up to the 44th floor!

After his elevator departed, we took another elevator down to the floor we wanted. When I asked Philip why he didn’t say anything he said, “he needed to feel as if he were doing something good” and added, “and it was a nice ride!”

Oh, my sweet, sweet Philip. He was such a sweet man. He used to have a favorite coffee house on a street in our town that is closed to vehicular traffic. He’d sit there for hours starting early in the AM. He loved watching the town wake up and he loved the daily parade. He’d sit, read his newspapers, and hold court with dozens of friends that would show up.

One day he told me about this captivating little girl that would come in to the coffee shop and how much I’d love this little child. He mentioned this child to me several times and always with a smile.

At the time I owned a spa that became very popular among the townspeople. On an occasion shortly after Philip’s story of this little girl, I happened to be giving a facial to a new client. As I sat behind her massaging her face, she said to me, “Norma, you know everyone in this town. There’s this really handsome man who I see often at the coffee shop. He has blue eyes, a mustache and a great smile – and he’s in a wheelchair.”

Now, I’m beginning to smile inwardly, when she asked, “Would you know who he is, I really want to get to know him?” I thought about my answer briefly before I said, “Yes, I know him.” “Really”, she exclaimed, “Please, who is he?”

“Um, my husband”.

She was so embarrassed, but I thought it was adorable. After all, I knew how handsome and charmingly appealing he was to everyone who ever met him. I got a kick out of the fact that she was the mother of the little girl Philip was so enthralled with!

Philip was always generous. He was generous with his kindness, with the time he’d give to another, and the honesty he gave of himself to any one in need. One of his best characteristics was how he actually listened when someone talked to him. It was a trait that endeared him to so many…and to me especially.

He never offered an opinion unless asked and even then he tempered his response. He never hurt anyone’s feelings; he always made light of awful situations. He made everyone laugh, always.

…And he loved me more than life itself. I find myself asking, “Does anyone deserve so much happiness in life?” I can answer that now. The answer is a resounding, “Yes”.

© Norma Sherry 2012

~ The Author ~
Norma Sherry Rappa is a writer, producer and television personality. Norma has been a contributor to Kettle Moraine, Ltd. publications since February 2003.