A Tribute to Sean Wawrzaszek—MEGASML

A Tribute to Sean Wawrzaszek—MEGASML

Sean 1980sI want to thank you all for coming here to celebrate the life of a most extraordinary individual.

Last Tuesday evening, as I was driving on Glen Carlyn Road in Falls Church, I found myself thinking about what I might say today. It had been six days since Sean died. I came to a stop at a red light, positioned behind an SUV. The SUV had a vanity plate which read “MEGASML” I quickly translated it as “Mega Smile.” I then thought to myself, “That’s not right. Sean was the one who had the Mega Smile.

You all know Sean. He was funny, kind, hopeful, and possessed the ability to laugh at himself. He was patient and smart and insightful. And he had that GLORIOUS smile, the Mega Smile, if you will.

In my capacity as a Eucharistic Minister at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, I had the pleasure of bringing Holy Communion to Sean – in the form of a few drops of the Precious Blood – on Sunday mornings.

It was always an adventure entering Merica House on Sundays. I never knew how many questions Sean would have stored up in his computer and what those questions would be. The questions could be as simple as, “Are you going to bring ashes on Ash Wednesday?” Other questions were more philosophical. Whatever the subject, Sean’s questions were usually a challenge.

Upon seeing Sean, I would ask, “Sean, how are you doing today?” Sean was not one to say, “I am okay” or “I am fine.” It was always, “I’m doing great!” Similarly, when I would ask if he had a good time on his vacation at Camp Jabberwocky, he would never say, “Yes, I had a good time.” It was always an emphatic, “I had a blast!”

I didn’t know Sean at the time, but when his sister Siobhan was attending Bishop O’Connell High School, she would sometimes bring Sean to the school dances and to O’Connell’s football games. To hear Siobhan tell it, Sean loved going to the dances at O’Connell and he loved going to the football games. In truth, I think Sean was always ready for anything that resembled a party.

Over the past five or six years, it has often seemed to be my task to write an article or two for the spring and fall Merica House newsletters. I would have been lost without Sean. He was a writer’s dream. He would say something that was hysterically funny or have some memorable experience that provided the inspiration for my articles. Sean made the news. All I had to do was write about it. All of which leads me to my favorite story about Sean – the “De-Horse” petition.

I know many of you are familiar with Sean’s talking computer. Most of you probably know, also, that his computer wasn’t flawless. It made mistakes. As an example, as much as Sean tried to get the computer to spell Siobhan’s name correctly, it always seemed to come out as “Sheveen.”

To set the stage for the “De-Horse” story, it’s no secret that Sean and Deirdre Shields have had a very special friendship over the past 10 years or so. They have been close friends and very supportive of one another. As happens with friendships, however, there were occasional arguments and disagreements. There were clearly times — few in number — when Sean would get upset with Dee and vice versa.

One Sunday morning, as I entered Merica House, I was confronted with a request from Sean. Knowing that I occasionally draft divorce petitions in my line of work, Sean asked, “Can you write a divorce petition for me?” The implication was clear: The relationship between Sean and Dee was on rocky ground. To Sean’s chagrin, however, his talking computer betrayed him. The machine pronounced the word “divorce” as “D E – H O R S E.” I told Sean that I would be happy to prepare a “D E – H O R S E” petition for him. At that, the others in the room – Deirdre, Maureen, Matthew and Orlando – broke out in a raucous laughter. The laughter was infectious – Sean started laughing himself. The dispute was quickly forgotten. All anyone could think about was the “D E – H O R S E” petition.

Sometimes Sean would have to send his talking computer back to the manufacturer for repairs. On those occasions, Sean, Deirdre, and Maureen would employ a unique procedure to allow Sean to communicate. Deirdre and Maureen would slowly recite the alphabet, A … B … C… D …. When they pronounced a character that Sean needed to form the word he had in mind, he would kick his legs. So, for example, Maureen and Deirdre might say “B” and Sean would kick his legs. They might say “L” and Sean would kick his legs. And soon Sean would have all the letters he needed to form the word “B L A S T” or some other word. The process would be repeated and Sean would soon have a complete sentence.

Think for a minute about the patience that this routine required. Sean possessed that kind of patience.
Sean possessed a serious side. Earlier this year, when I came in one Sunday, Sean had a look of concern on his face. Maybe he sensed that his health was not quite as good as it had been. Or maybe he was worried about his mother. For whatever reason, it was clear that Sean was taking stock of his circumstances. When I greeted him that morning, Sean said to me: “Fred, what’s going to happen to me?” he asked.

Here I am going to digress a bit. I had an exchange of email messages the other day with Merica House’s outstanding treasurer, Mitch Opalski. At the end of our exchange of emails, Mitch wrote, “It takes a village, right?”

That was essentially my answer to Sean when he asked, “What’s going to happen to me?” I told him, “You’ve got a village behind you, Sean.”

Sean had a lot of villages. He had a village in Cornelius, North Carolina, and a village in Northern Virginia and a village in Martha’s Vineyard. I’m sure that he had other villages as well. All those villages are represented here today. I know that Sean couldn’t be more proud to have all his villages in one place.
One of Sean’s smaller villages would assemble at Merica House on Saturday evenings. Ever gracious, Father Matthew DeForest, a Catholic priest at St. Anthony of Padua Church, would celebrate Mass at Merica House on Saturday evenings. In addition to Fr. Matthew, Sean’s “village” included his friends Ellen Flannery, Lorni and Mike Dillon, Betty Dvorscak, Cathy Parr, and Deirdre and Maureen Shields. During these Masses, Fr. Matthew would invite everyone to mention their prayer requests. So, Cathy might ask for prayers for her niece and Deirdre or Maureen might request prayers for their brother Andrew, who was serving overseas. Invariably, Sean would prepare his own prayer intentions. However, Sean and his talking computer didn’t always get the timing right. Sometimes Sean wouldn’t be able to activate his talking computer until five or ten minutes later. As a result, his prayer intentions often came during the consecration. The timing was not important, however. What was important was the thought behind Sean’s prayer requests. More often than not, Sean would ask for prayers for his mother and for Siobhan and her family.

Sean was both a student of life and a teacher. He taught me and others every day. He taught us about life.
In closing, I want to share with you the Top Ten Most Significant Lessons that I learned from Sean.

Number 10: Content is more important than timing: what you say is more important than when
you say it.
Number 9: When machines fail, it is an opportunity for human ingenuity to take over.
Number 8: It doesn’t hurt to laugh at oneself.
Number 7: One shouldn’t be content with having a good time when there is the potential to have a “blast.”
Number 6: A smile is a very effective means of cultivating a village.
Number 5: The closer one gets to Martha’s Vineyard, the bigger one’s smile becomes.
Number 4: Life is easier when one lives it with patience.
Number 3: Small miracles happen every day.
Number 2: Love for friends and family is the glue that hold everything together.
Number 1: God is always at the center of one’s existence.

Sean, I thank you for sharing these lessons with me and others. I thank you for sharing your life with us.

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