Leo escorted me and my sister to the annual Father/Daughter Dance my senior year in high school when my father was living in Florida. Two years later Leo and his wife, Suzanne took me in and allowed me to live with them, while Ruth was still away at college, because my own home at the time was unsafe. They did so without judgement and without prying – simple and generous, unconditional acceptance and love. Leo was an amazingly bighearted, comforting, straight-shooter, hilarious, boisterous, smart, and a very well-loved man. He always made any visitor feel as if they were family, no matter how long you stayed or how long he had known you. His hugs were enveloping, and his voice resounding. Every Christmas day, Leo and Suzanne hosted an open house – all day and all night. No matter how many people came or how late they stayed, there was plenty to eat and drink for all. Punctuating the day and night were songs, stories, laughter, loud discussions, children, and then grand-children. You see Christmas day was Leo’s birthday, so the open house was a way of not just inviting friends and family to celebrate Christmas and his birthday, it was also Leo’s way of giving himself and his many gifts to all who entered his home, something he did without reservation and with a grace that touched you with joy no matter what kind of mood you were in when you arrived.
When Ruth called and told me of Leo’s death that Thursday morning, I was devastated. Ruth was understandably inconsolable. My heart ached for her, for Suzanne, for the family and for my father. There was no question that I would be on plane as soon as possible to be there.
Thinking back to that Thursday morning, I believe now that it was Leo’s spirit and the spirit of his generosity that compelled me to post a bold request on the local “freecycle” site (a website where anyone can post items to give away for free, and post things they need, again for free). I posted: “WANTED: Southwest miles (or any).” I briefly said that I knew this was a “big” request, and went on to describe who Leo was to me, and how I needed to be there for his funeral. By the end of the day, no one had responded (as I expected), so I purchased my ticket to leave on Saturday. On Friday morning I received an email from Sara. She wrote she had Southwest award miles to give to me if my dates were flexible. I was stunned. I immediately emailed back saying that my dates weren’t really flexible and that I had just purchased my ticket, and thanked her profusely. After a few more emails back and forth, she used her award miles to purchase the ticket for the return portion of the trip, so that I could use what I had already paid for future trip. I cried with gratitude for this unknown person reaching out, listening and being so willing to open her heart and generosity to someone she had never met. She trusted what I was posting was real, there was never any question about that. In my final email to her I asked her to please call me so that I could hear her voice. Friday evening, Sara called. I couldn’t hold back my tears of gratitude. She said she had plenty of miles and that giving them to me was also giving a gift to her – allowing her to help someone in need, and feel the feelings that come with knowing you have done a great kindness. I completely understood those feelings, and for me, mixed with the gratitude for her deed, was a good feeling of my own that I had been able to give a gift too.
And this is what we can do for each other – not just those we know, but those we don’t know who are in need. The beauty of this experience for me is not just in the act itself, but in the validation that we are all here to help each other navigate the sometimes choppy waters of our journey. And in extending ourselves for each other we not only receive what we need, but we can then give so much more, because we understand at a deep level the importance and restorative nature of the acts of such kindnesses.
Leo, thank you for all you were to me, to so many people. And thank you for sending your spirit to open the way for the continuation of the kindnesses you so easily and generously extended to all. You are missed.