|Me with Jean Paul and his son Léo in Puisserguier, France last year.|
I first met Jean-Paul back in the 1981-82 school year. I was studying in Montpellier, France. I met him through Bernard Massé, a mutual friend. He was amused to run into an American who loved soccer(football) and rugby. I would get together with some friends and we would play pick-up games of soccer at L'Université Paul Valéry, on the grounds by the student cafeteria. When the FIFA World Cup started that year, we would get together at his apartment or Bernard's apartment to watch soccer and talk about it. Being very politically involved,he also wanted to talk politics, but his other passion, besides soccer and rugby, was music-and he was a huge, huge Bruce Springsteen fan. (He would get a chance to see him perform in France)
When I left Montpellier, he gave me his address and told me to keep in touch. The funny thing was, we kept on writing each other and keeping up with what was going on in our lives. I would send him post cards, shirts of American sports teams and different CD's. Jean-Paul would send me books, CD's and articles on what was going on in soccer and rugby. Remember, that in the 80's and early 90's, there was no internet to keep up with results. I would get these clippings that were weeks and months old, and that was how I kept up with European soccer and rugby for a long, long time.
We followed each other as we went through different stages in our lives. For me, it meant getting married, being in the US Air Force in Texas, going to nursing school. becoming a parent of a son and a daughter and hosting exchange students. During those years, money was tight-I so desperately wanted to go back to Southern France and see my friends. For Jean-Paul, he got his degree, worked as a teacher near Valenciennes, in the north of France for two miserable years, and then he would marry Fabienne, and then move back to near Béziers, his home town in Languedoc. He was very involved as a teacher, and then after his boys Charlie and Léo were born, he would be very involved as a volunteer coach for Midi-Lirou, a youth soccer club in the Puisserguier and Capestang area.
In 2004, my wife Rebekah and I went to France for our 20th wedding anniversary. We were able to see Jean Paul, and all of us just hit it off. We had a wonderful late afternoon and evening eating great food and drinking some great local wines from Languedoc.
I was able to introduce the Sirat family to my family when we went to France for the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Jean Paul and Fabienne were very, very gracious hosts. While we rented a house for 3 days in Puisserguier, they made sure we were over at their house for dinner every night. My kids discovered the joys of wild boar paté(made by Fabienne's dad) and Jean-Paul personally arranged for our family to do a vineyard tour and private wine tasting. (We neglected to tell our poor daughter Rachel that she did not have to empty each glass-by the time she finished her fourth glass, my 16 year old daughter said, "Dad, do I HAVE to finish every glass..I think I am getting drunk")
Jean-Paul went to the two World Cup games that my son Ian and I saw, Samoa-Tonga and Tonga-USA. After both games, my son and I both enjoyed a "third half" with Jean Paul and some of his friends. A few days later, Jean-Paul introduced my son Ian to the joys of Pastis. (We both ended up crashing the night at his place)
I guess when you get to be over 50, it should not be a total shock that you start losing some friends. Jean-Paul is my first really close friend to die since my high school wrestling team mate Steve Briggs got killed in a car accident in 1988, when he was only 27 years old.
As I sit here at my computer in Los Angeles, I am just stunned. I had really hoped to one day show him around the USA, or at least offer him some good meals while he stayed at my place. I so wanted to return the favor to him that he showed me back in 2004 and 2007. Thanks to Jean-Paul Sirat, and his kindness, my kids, Ian and Rachel, got to see and experience France in an entirely different way than most kids, who have to see France in the back of a crowded tour bus. My kids were able to see that there are really nice people in France....that they enjoy eating a really good meal and having conversation, and that, although French and American politicians may spar and have spats, French and American cultures each have aspects to be admired and appreciated.
I am going to miss a friend who was funny, blunt, curious who actually enjoyed writing post cards and letters as much as I do-even with the internet available-and had a passion for sports. I feel like a big part of my life is just gone...I hope that I can still maintain contact with Fabienne, Charlie and Léo. I hope that I can express to them just what a good friend Jean-Paul Sirat was.
Adieu mon pote. Tu me manques déja`....(Good bye, old buddy, I miss you already)
I will give Jean-Paul the final word. When he gave me a book for Christmas a couple of years ago called "Rugby Au Centre", a book on the art of inside center play in rugby. He wrote the following inscription:
un ami pour la vie, malgré la distance, tu restes proche dan mon coeur, amicalement-Jean Paul
(To Steve, a friend for life, in spite of the distance, you stay close to my heart, your friend, Jean-Paul Sirat)