I originally wrote this on August 24, 2009
This past Sunday, Mike and I attended a memorial service for a dear friend of mine. I met Leslie Bradley through an English class I was taking at Durham Technical College. I was simply taking the class to fulfill the allotted slot on my transcript with little hope of carrying away any new knowledge of the subject matter. I have loved the written word all of my life and arrogantly felt I knew as much about English as the instructor would know. I sat down in class feeling somewhat awkward to realize not only was I the oldest student there but that I apparently was from another world in terms of clothing and lifestyle. These kids were modern day, fresh from high school, daddy’s paying for college type of kids, or so I thought. I would quickly learn how wrong my prejudices were when revealed through the enlightening lens by which our instructor, Leslie Bradley viewed our class. By the end of the first class period, she had managed to knit our hearts not only with hers but with each other. We were all there for different reasons, from different backgrounds, and with different goals, but for those few hours a week, we formed a bond and a new community, facilitated by this amazing lady.
I would sit under Leslie’s tutelage for two different English classes. Both classes were rich with far more than the subject of English. She introduced me to authors and philosophers and musicians who embraced words and used them to change the world around them. She taught me how to view different opinions with an open mind and how to see prejudice and stereotyping for what it is, limiting. I watched her interact with people gracefully whose opinions she did not share but who were valued regardless. I saw her go out of her way to help students for whom English was a second language. I witnessed her bravery as she stood before us to announce that her cancer had returned. I was in awe of how she laughed at herself when she got a new wig and how she somehow mustered up the energy to teach when I knew she would rather be at home in bed. She gave us 100% of herself in those classes.
Away from class, Leslie and I became friends. Exchanging emails, phone calls, and enjoying lunch together, all while discussing writing ideas and stories about the people we each loved. Leslie had a way of entering your world and making you feel as if she had been there forever. Quickly I learned of the many similarities Leslie and I shared. She lived in Rockport, Massachusetts and ran an art gallery there, showcasing her husband’s paintings. Mike and I visited Rockport in 2001 and have since said it is one of loveliest places we have been. Leslie and I both loved so many of the same things: great plays, music, the antics of Anne of Green Gables, the musings of great writers, the simplicity of reading in our pajamas on rainy mornings, the New England coast, small cafes, and coffee houses. We both enjoyed great marriages that gave us second chances at love born of pain and difficult choices. Hers enjoyed a beautiful wedding ceremony on the island of Santorini, Greece. Mine is supposed to celebrate our 25th anniversary on the same island in 2010. Her nearly obsessive love of cats is one of the few things we do not share. But no friendship can be perfect in every way. Leslie was a gifted writer, an inspirational teacher and a dear friend. After a five year battle with breast cancer, Leslie passed away earlier this month. I’m quite sure that no one has impacted my life in a richer, more meaningful way in such a short amount of time as Leslie did. My life is filled with friends who have changed me and made me better. Leslie affirmed me as a writer, challenged me as a wife, inspired me as a friend, and made me want to hold the people in my life a little closer than before she was a part of my world.
As a tribute to Leslie’s life, folks who attended her memorial service were invited to share their thoughts on how Leslie impacted their lives. I marveled at the variety of personalities represented in that array of speakers. Each person gave accounts of Leslie’s imprint on their life and what struck me was that this one lady managed to make each person feel better about themselves and to believe that she, Leslie, loved them as intensely as she loved every other person in her life. She was a master at convincing you that you mattered to her. And she loved to touch. Sometimes, she would just touch your arm while she spoke. Sometimes, she would embrace you and with that embrace your soul felt as hugged as your body did.
I miss her today. This was an incredible lady who lived life absolutely to the fullest and enjoyed so many of the little things that most people take for granted. This amazing friend who has left a void in my heart and yet filled a place I did not realize was vacant before I met her. The voice of my friend may be silent but her influence in my life will shine through everything I write from this point in time. I loved her because of who she was and I am indebted because she shared herself with me. Every life should be so blessed to have a friend who challenges and changes them all while embracing their individuality and celebrating their differences.