A Man of Peace

Lars

Lars. Photo by Callen Harty.

 

 

Sometimes the loss of a person you don’t  know that well can affect you as deeply or more as the loss of someone with whom you are closer by blood or love. So it is with the loss Wednesday of Lars Prip. I have been at a loss for the last two days, on the verge of tears for a man I knew, but not well. The thing is, even though we were not close friends, he was a hero to me. The loss of a hero when we are in such desperate need of them is devastating.

Lars was an immigrant to America. He was born in Denmark and moved here when he was a boy. As a young man, he enlisted and served with the Marines in Viet Nam and then reenlisted and served in Iran. He lost a twin brother in Viet Nam. The things he saw there and the loss of his brother affected him deeply and he became an advocate for a more peaceful world. I lost a favorite cousin there and have been a pacifist since.

His obituary mentions lots of things I never knew about Lars and those memories are important for others. It’s amazing how different people can know different parts of a person’s life. What I knew was a man of peace. He was a man who stood for peace and other causes with a ferocity that belied the gentle person who was known for his great hugs and cheerful demeanor. I first met him in 2011 on a bus that was loaded with counter-protesters on the way from Madison to West Allis, Wisconsin where we were going to greet a group of Nazis who had gotten permission to hold a rally. I knew a couple people on that bus but had come by myself just because I felt a need to be there. Lars greeted me with a smile that day and introduced himself.

He was a bit older than me. He was heavier at the time and about my height (meaning not very tall) and had a light beard and moustache. He was carrying a sign (virtually every time I saw him he had a sign of some sort) and was wearing a hat festooned with buttons about peace and justice. Something about him appealed to me immediately. There was a warmth and a genuineness about him that I liked.

For the next eight years I kept bumping into him whenever there was a rally against another war or possible war, whenever there was a march for peace or some other just cause, whenever there was a memorial for another person or group of people lost to gun violence. I would see him at protests against Scott Walker’s assault on Wisconsin workers or rallies for civil rights. He would be there at the weekly Farmers’ Market where he and his Veterans for Peace friends–especially another man I admire, David Soumis–would stand week after week to advocate against war. He also held a regular vigil in Beloit, Wisconsin as well.

He was often verbally assaulted when he did these things, attacked as anti-American for promoting peace. The irony of that is inescapable. But he would not attack back. He would gently express his viewpoint. Lars believed that peace was the only way to save humanity. He believed that advocating for peace made him a better American and a better citizen of the world. He had seen the horrors of war and did not want that for his children or grandchildren–or for anyone’s children or grandchildren.

Seeing Lars was always a highlight of any day. He made everyone feel special and he did everything he did because he loved people deeply. His love was real and if you were in any part of his world, your world was brighter and better because of it. It will be a lot dimmer now, though I believe his legacy will be honored by others who will continue his work for peace. Already this week a number of people gathered on his usual corner in Beloit to hold signs for peace in his honor and more are planning on doing that at Farmer’s Market this weekend. He will be long remembered, his work will continue through others, and hopefully he has found peace at last.

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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1 Response to A Man of Peace

  1. Pingback: The Heart Breaks Free – let kindness win

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