Vol 4, Num 18 :: 2005.10.07 — 2005.10.20
Late at night I often think of my friend and mentor, the man who taught me how to age graciously and courageously: Leonard. He might be termed an archangel among the many angels who?ve graced my path and for whom I am often grateful in the deep watches of the night.
Forty years my senior, Leonard took me to lunch once each month when he was in town. We each had the same meal at the same restaurant, each time, and he always insisted on paying as he ?made more in retirement than I did working.? For him, a simple matter of justice. For me, a profound matter of grace. We would talk over current events, he often shaking his head and whispering, ?What must God think?? A good question. A Jew, Leonard was profoundly aware of God?s devotion to social justice, and equally aware of how often the human community thought that a rather low priority as it pursued its own aggrandizement. Ever we are building Babel?s tower rather than the city of God.
And then he?d ask me not only what I was reading, but what should he be reading? After the first time this happened (to my utter amazement), I learned he was absolutely serious and prepared myself to answer thoughtfully. Now I think it was his way of insuring I was tending carefully to my own reading, making sure it was a good mix of honest and beautiful fiction, history, theology, and social commentary. He would share his assessment of the books he?d read since last we?d met, and never did I rise from our familiar table without being humbled at his capacity for critical thought.
Leonard overflowed with love, but never gave himself over to easy, empty sentimentality. This was clear when I officiated at his second marriage after the death of his Alzheimer-stricken first wife, whom he visited twice a day for two years as she wandered the corridors of memory in a nursing home. His second wife, Rose, helped him find new life and challenged him to open once again the doors of himself to music and theater and discussion. Out of love for her, he rose to new life. As our wedding anniversaries were the same, we would celebrate together by dining out. How Leonard loved to tease the wait staff by asking them which couple they thought had been married the longest!
In the months before he died, Leonard asked if I would bury him. He retold me the stories of the pivotal moments in his life?his army service in India in World War II, what our shared university was like when he had matriculated there, the travels he and his first wife had made, how he weathered the death of his beloved daughter in a car accident, his pride in his lawyer son who shared his profession, his clients who helped him grow as he helped them cope, his frustrated political career (?I?ll never know if it was because I was a Jew or a democrat that I didn?t get elected!?), how seriously his golf game had deteriorated in recent years. All these so I?d remember just who I was burying when the time came. And I did.
If a mentor is someone whose hindsight can become your foresight, he was my mentor. If a friend is someone who seeks your wellbeing through honesty and grace, he was my friend. If a role model is someone who lives and teaches until he dies, he was my role model. If a saint is one who nobly embodies in action the truth he professes, he was my saint. I think of all of these each time I stand by his grave, ever thankful for the life he is still seeking to live in me.