Thursday, August 8, 2013

Lay Nowd

A family friend passed away yesterday after a sudden and brief battle with cancer, at the age of 37.  Leonard Lorton was good friends with my older brother Andy in high school.  He leaves behind a wife and two boys (11 and 13).  It's such a great loss.  So sad and heartbreaking to think of him being gone, and gone so suddenly.  In Andy's words, "Some things are just not fair, and don't make any sense at all."   I love remembering and honoring people who pass on, and so I thought I would dedicate this post to my memories of an amazing person, who blessed our life so briefly, yet so powerfully.

We moved to Virginia the summer of 1992.  Shortly after our move there, my brother Andy met Mike and Leonard at a ward social.  I'm amazed that's where they met, as all three of them had varying degrees of church activity and interest at that time.  The Lord must have known how much they needed each other.  They hit it off and became fast friends.  "Andy, Mike and Leonard":  you always heard those three names together.  
Leonard, Andy and Mike, summer of 1993
Mike had just moved to Sterling to live with his Dad, who worked as a corrections officer.  His parents were divorced, and his Dad worked really long and odd hours and wasn't active in church.  Mike was often left to fend for himself for meals and company.  In many ways Mike lived on his own.  Lacking self-esteem and a present and loving family, he came to our family at just the right time.  

I didn't know much about Leonard's family.  They were members, and Leonard was second-to-youngest in his family, with several siblings quite a bit older than him.  His sister was in a few of my classes at school.  His parents were really very kind, humble people,  they seemed to have a hard time making ends meet for their family.  However, despite that, Leonard worked really hard.  He was happy, kind, funny, humble and sincere.  Leonard was "GOOD" in every way.  He could dispel a disagreement with a perfectly-timed and funny comment.  He was quiet, but when he talked he said something meaningful and important.   Even as a teenager, I could tell that Leonard was an extraordinary person.  

I don't remember the first time I actually met Leonard, but he and Mike were often at our house, coming and going with Andy.   Both Mike and Leonard played Varsity basketball, so we'd often see them after school, taking a pit stop at our house for a snack or to watch sports on TV.  My mom would make sure they knew what was available to eat, and they'd usually head downstairs briefly and then hit the road to play basketball.  It wasn't long before we thought of Leonard and Mike like family.  They were a couple extra brothers, really (with nine kids, what's two more?)  Mike said, "From my perspective (the time with your family was), so incredibly brief and yet so impactful. My kids have no idea how much they have your family to thank for me turning into a reasonably good dad who has the self-confidence to be kids with them and the understanding of what a good family can and should look like. My boys still have no idea what I am saying when I start speaking "Hale" to them. (Storks, beans, scrubbing birds, etc.) We supported them through their basketball season, even traveling to away games to cheer them on.  Park View had a great season that year, and it was so fun to watch "our boys" playing on the court.  

That winter, my Dad was called to be the young men basketball coach of our Sterling Park ward.  Dad is great at a lot of things, but an athlete, he has never been.  I honestly wasn't sure what they were thinking in calling him to that position!  I didn't even know if Dad knew the rules to the game, let alone how to coach a team!  Dad either knew he needed some help, or he knew those boys needed to be needed.  Either way, Dad requested a couple "assistant coaches", Mike and Leonard, to help him on the bench.  We were all so grateful they enthusiastically agreed to help our Dad.  Mike and Leonard ran the practices and coordinated the plays and the subbing in and out.  My Dad just organized the schedule, provided pizza after the games, and cheered on his team.  Dad LOVED that job, and that time with those youth.  He would go on and on about the games afterwards. As I recall, that team went all the way to regionals that year!  I still have a vivid picture of my Dad (happily smiling) and Mike and Leonard, sitting together on the "bench".  It was heartwarming to see those sweet boys step up like that to serve.

In the Spring, Leonard approached me privately and said he wanted to take me out.  I was so flattered (but honestly, completely shocked) to be asked by Leonard!  He was always the nicest person, and you just felt comfortable to be yourself around him.  As a 16-year-old, my dating experiences thus far had been pretty lackluster (my very first date was to homecoming that fall, with a guy who made it known he was only asking me out so he could "keep an eye" on his ex-girlfriend who was going to the dance with another guy)!  I can't believe I accepted with that kind of caveat!  As you can imagine, Leonard asking me out didn't strike such a positive note with Andy, who expressed his disapproval at his younger sister going out with his friend.  He was mad.  In his eyes it was "gross".  haha.  I'm not sure what, if anything was said to Leonard, but we went out anyway (only that one time.  I couldn't bear to have Andy mad at me!).  He took me to Fudruckers (a build-your-own-hamburger place) and a movie (Groundhog Day).  I remember not being accustomed to how boys treat a girl on a date.  At one point in the date,  I needed more ketchup or something, and Leonard put up his hand, as he stood up from his chair and said, "I'll get it for you!"  This was shocking and totally foreign to have a guy offer to do something for me, even something that small!  I remember protesting, and saying that I could go get it myself.  He paused, looked a little confused and said, "You are my date.  I want to serve you.  Please, let me."  I was so touched by his comment and the gesture.  I remember feeling so special that night.  He listened so carefully to everything I had to say.  He asked questions, and was so sincere and interested in what I thought.  Leonard taught me how a girl was meant to be treated, and although that was just a brief experience, it's one I never forgot, because of the way he made me feel.  I'm so happy I had that experience at that young age, because it raised my standard of expectation, so-to-speak, and helped me throughout the next ten years of dating until I married Josh.  I'm so happy Leonard found his wonderful wife, Kristen.  It's obvious he treated her like a queen and loves her so much.  It's been so fun to see photos and read about their lives together - a truly exceptional couple.

Leonard had a special friendship with the twins, Marie and Emily.  They were five years old at the time, and the babies of our family of nine.  He was a magnet for kids - a real pied piper.  He truly enjoyed being around them, and they adored him in return.  He cared about the things they cared about, and made an effort to make them feel important, asking them about their toys or a cartoon they were watching, and even reading them a book.  The twins loved Leonard.  He was their favorite friend.  They couldn't pronounce the "r" in Leonard, so it came out "Lay-Nowd".  When he would come over and the three boys would bound down the stairs to Andy's room, the girls would each grab one of his hands and chant "Lay-Nowd, Lay-Nowd!" and drag him over to play toys with them.  He would spend a few minutes playing on the floor and talking to them.  What 17-year-old boy would ditch his buddies for a few minutes to play with a couple of kids?  Leonard, that's who.  I knew even back then he'd be a great Dad, and from the comments from his family, it sounds like he indeed is a devoted father to his two boys.
This is a terribly out-of-focus picture, but it truly captures Lay-Nowd.

A friend of his posted the following on a private wall set up for photos and memories of Leonard:
"In speaking with him in his last days he shared that he was leaving this life with no regrets. I believe him and the power of that statement is something quite profound, something I felt to my core when he shared it with me. I am proud of him, proud to have known someone, who can leave this life with that perspective. I have always respected him, but never more so than watching him in his final weeks of life. He was a true patriarch and, along with his dear wife, raised two fine young men. It is a rare thing to know someone who truly fulfills the measure of their creation and magnifies themselves in a way that brings out the best in those around them. "  

That's an amazing thing, and it takes a special type of person to be able to say that in their final days - that they leave this life with no regrets.  It inspires me to live a life more like his.  It was an honor to know Leonard.


melanie said...

You write so well. Thank you for sharing about a life well lived - very uplifting.

Liz said...

What a great tribute.