I haven’t written here in some time. Haven’t really felt the spark. But then I met Leonard. The 85 year-old retired physician with the tweed suit jacket and Patriots hat. My neighbor on my flight to DC to see my best friend.
Leonard was reading a magazine, underlining sections with a red marker, and I was looking out the window at the snow. Snow in March – why couldn’t it snow on Christmas instead?
Our plane was supposed to be in the air by 9am. At 9:20 we were still motionless. Thank you snow.
“What are you reading?” I was bored and I love old people. I wish there was a better word to describe someone who is 70 years or older. Maybe it would be better if I said aged people or people with lots of wisdom? People with stories. I had a feeling Leonard had a story.
“A magazine.” Leonard was a smart ass. Perfect. This conversation was bound to be a good one.
“Well I know that silly, what magazine?” I laughed and he laughed, too.
“The medical journal – old habits never die. I get it delivered every week and was hoping to read it on this flight.”
Was he trying to tell me to leave him alone? Oh well, now I’m intrigued.
“Oh, are you a doctor?”
“Oh interesting, how many years were you a doctor?”
“50! Can you believe that? I am old.”
And that was all we needed to kick off a 2 hour+ conversation about life, love, family, career, money, politics and seduction. Yes, seduction. More about that later.
Leonard was a physician at Mass General for 50 years. His favorite part about his job? Listening to his patients. Listening for the answers to their pains, problems, questions.
“People just want someone to listen to them. I got to be that person for so many.”
Half a century of listening, curing, helping.
“Who are you going to visit?”
“My daughter. I am so proud of her. I love her so much. She’s been out of work for a few weeks, but starts a new job soon so I figured now would be a great time to visit her. If we ever leave that is. What do you do anyways?”
“I’m a customer experience consultant at an insurance company and I teach yoga.”
“How’d you prepare for that career?”
No one had asked me a question like that in awhile. How could I answer?
“You went to college?”
Ah. Yes, I went to college. I helped start a nonprofit. I worked for an amazing education company.
“Yes, I went to college and I had a lot of cool jobs that prepared me for the role, but honestly, I just really love people so customer experience feels like the right fit.”
We talked about leadership styles that work and don’t work. How we value autonomy and collaboration, positivity and transparency. How he never had to worry about bosses because he was his own boss. That at the end of the day, his patients were the boss.
We talked about family. My two sisters, his daughter.
“I had another daughter, but she died when she was 21.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that – that must have been really hard to experience.”
“You know, when you have children, they take up so much space in your mind – they become your everything. I would describe losing a child like having half of your psyche amputated. I still had my 2 legs, my 2 arms, my heart, my brain, my senses, but part of me was gone. I was living, but unlike any way I’d ever lived before.”
He took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. I thought we’d both cry.
“She was the tomboy. I was so close to her. It’s been almost 30 years and I still find moments where the sadness hits me.”
He told me about a support group he participates in the first Monday of every month at a church. Compassionate Friends or something like that. He said that it was helpful to talk with a community of people who had experienced a loss as great as he’d experienced.
Our conversation weaved on to love.
“Are you still married?”
“Yes, I’ve been married to my wife for 27 years. I was married before her to another woman for 25 years.”
“Why’d you get divorced?”
“To be honest, I’m not ever sure we ever loved each other. She got pregnant and we got married. After a while though I started thinking that I needed to leave. It gets heavy living with someone who doesn’t really like you very much. And my relationship with my daughters was the most important, but I knew we’d be able to stay close if I left.”
“What’s your new wife like?”
“We are best friends. She’s writing a book. She’s a historian and we go to the library together and I help her collect the documents she needs for her book.”
I immediately thought of my best friends Larry and Kitty and how they do the same thing together. Larry is 77 and Kitty is 76 and they’re both historians. Brilliant people. We meet on Saturdays for breakfast and talk about everything from American history to beer to nature and more. I met Larry in a coffee shop a year ago – hard to imagine what my life would be like if I’d never asked about all of the papers he had spread out on the table. He was researching a train crash in Thompson, CT, my hometown. It’s a very small world my friends.
I figured Leonard might have some dating advice for me…
“I’m dating right now. It’s sort of hellish.”
“Well you’re just not meeting the right people.”
“I think you might be right.” Easier said than done, Leonard.
“Just don’t get lured in by seduction. People will tell you what they think you want to hear and they’ll seduce you. There are a lot of crazy people out there – at work and in love. Watch out for their seduction techniques. Don’t let yourself be fooled.”
“Why surely you’ve been seduced and tricked?
How did he know that?
“Yes, be patient. You have plenty of time and life ahead of you. Be patient, go slow, and don’t let yourself be seduced.”
I usually ask right at the beginning of a conversation, but I didn’t learn that his name was Leonard until our plane landed and we said our goodbyes. My papa’s name was Leonard. Made me smile. Thank you for coming into my life Leonard. xo