Her name is Marypaz. For those of us privileged to be in the peace-building universe, we could not have scripted it. Her name, directly translated, is Mary Peace.
She is a student at Park City High School, high in the majestic Wasatch Mountains of Utah, and we are here developing partnerships and building relations at the Sundance Film Festival, invited to spread goodwill, cheer and inspiration in all the hoopla and excitement, and, in no short order, make our mark amongst the production and distribution channels of stimulating and educational content. Business development, media relations and presentations dominate our few days here, but there are real people behind the contacts and introductions, and one stands out as I take flight for the return east, with forecasts of bitter storms and canceled flights pinging across all media. Her name is Marypaz.
We accomplish much in the 72 hours on the ground, starting with our unstoppable and formidable Co-Founder Peter Yarrow, warmly welcomed at SLC airport by a legion of photographers, autograph seekers and fans, as well as everyday passengers with luggage in tow curious what all the ruckus is about. I adopt a new role at baggage claim: bodyguard. But everyone knows the gentle dragon hardly needs protection. He handles each greeting and request with kindness and generosity, foregoing his own chance at retrieving his bag to meet the demands of the pushing crowd. An hour later, we find his bag was removed from the carousel as it went unclaimed in the given timeframe. Taking time for others comes with certain and acceptable sacrifices.
Over the next few days we will participate in festival receptions, networking events, the HOPE HAUS on Main Street with panel discussions and treat the congregants at Temple Har Shalom to an unforgettable Peter Yarrow experience. Sundance will get a healthy dose of Operation Respect, and we are deep in follow-ups with the contacts made and strategies in play for future engagements. But, in the midst of the action, is a visit to a school and making the acquaintance of Marypaz and about 100 of her schoolmates where our purpose crystalizes.
Peter provided an inspirational two hours of song, storytelling and history lessons on the impact of music in the social justice and civil rights movements, bridging the challenges to today where the courageous Parkland students have taken on the mantle to bring peace and proper change to the landscape of our troubled times. On a personal level, he compassionately challenges the youth to discover their unique space and amplify themselves, in whatever creative manner possible, for a world in deep confusion and division will require their voices.
Marypaz, small in stature, gentle and soft-spoken, stays on with many others as the event wraps up. Sundance and all its buzz is in the air just beyond the windowless walls of the high school’s band room, lined with instruments and adorned with awards, trophies and certificates memorializing these halls as the incubator of creative accomplishments over the years.
She is grateful and kind, and then emotional, sharing a story all her own that speaks to her desire to be free, young and healthy, normal and accepted, despite a debilitating and scary medical condition that brings fear and reminds her daily of the uncertainty of her future. Perhaps it was these two hours with Operation Respect, or the inherent and obvious poise, strength and courage she possesses, or some admirable combination of both that keeps Marypaz here, sharing photographs, standing straight at the piano as a song especially dedicated to her keeps her motionless, her tears now drying, a smile dominating.
She says Operation Respect feels like the perfect fit in her life. She wants to get involved in the mission, help others as she seeks help herself. Volunteer information is exchanged, and she spends quiet time with one of OR’s volunteer artists who, as fate would have it, shares a similar, frightening medical condition Marypaz now endures.
The business of the organization is steady and sure, simultaneous with the friendships and contacts being made at every stop. We are occupied every few hours with the next list of tasks. But life is not linear, and paths can properly intersect. It is in HOPE HAUS on Saturday that we are greeted by Marypaz once more. She has come with a bouquet of white roses to express her gratitude for the day before, attentively listens to the panels addressing high-brow topics from interpersonal well-being within a career, to production and distribution strategies for social-impact projects. Marypaz adds joy and purpose to HOPE HAUS, a young spirit among the adults, a clear reminder of why we do what we do.
I have been thinking since the flight home, with gratitude in my heart, that beyond all the logistics, details and multilayered elements involved in outreach, mass media relations, development and event activation, we are best served when the individual is reached, one-to-one, despite the magnitude of the occasion, size of the situation or numbers in the room. We are, in the final analysis, in the “people business.” The purpose, and gift, is revealed whenever we cross paths and connect with a Marypaz.
One of the final pictures of the official Sundance experience is Marypaz with her roses at HOPE HAUS, side by side with professionals from across the spectrum of the healthcare, music, film and television industry. But I have one more final picture. That evening we are stocking up at the local supermarket for a final soiree, a meet-and-greet with emerging partners to be held on Deer Valley Drive. There, working on a Saturday night, is a young checker, diligently and warmly greeting customers, processing payments and packing their groceries. It is no other than Marypaz.
She takes time to step away from the register to capture the moment with us. She raises a hand for the image – it is a peace sign – then returns to her work station with a smile.
Her name is Marypaz. Her parents named her well.
Written by John McKenna, Executive Director, Operation Respect