Monday, September 11, 2006

From a firey pyre to the heavens

We go through life hoping that as we live, it not only holds meaning for us, but that it has an impact on the lives of those around us. This post is a celebration of one such amazing life that accomplished much, very successfully, during his short time here on earth.


Larry: This song is dedicated to you.

Larry’s love and enthusiasm for his life, was only exceeded by his love for family and close friends. This was followed closely by his love for his city and his country. To know Larry was to like him. To like him and be lucky enough to spend time with him was to have the wonderful opportunity to get to love him. I was one of those lucky and blessed enough to have had him in my life for a number of years. I always thought of him as an angel who walked the earth.

We easily became friends over our shared passion for music and dance. Our friendship grew deeper over our love of running (and many other sports) and was cemented in our service for our community and country. Of course, the fact that our paths kept intersecting since high school probably had a lot to do with us also becoming good friends in the end. He went to a boys Jesuit high school called Power Memorial where my cousin taught. I went to a girls catholic high school, which was also his sister school not far from him.

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I really believe we became close friends because we lived such parallel lives and shared many similar interests. It was those shared interests that motivated and inspired each other. While we both studied in the City University system we started mentoring at risk youth (something I still do today). We also did service for our churches out of a love for our faith. We cared about everyone including our elderly neighbors. We made sure to support our neighborhood stores because they were a part of the world we lived in.

Larry not only cherished his family and close friends, they helped mold him into who he was: an accomplished athlete, gardener, winemaker, cook, rock climber, dancer, and deep-sea diver, who ran the NYC Marathon twice. He had it all: body, brains and brawn. Larry was great at all the things he tried because he invested himself in each endeavor with a zest for life that I understood and shared. Every new situation only served to challenge and enrich him personally, providing him with incredible life-experiences that he would then share with his family and friends, for they were the foundation of his life. These adventures also helped him stay in amazing physical shape, and contributed greatly to his spiritual well-being and growth.

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Larry was the consummate renaissance man having earned two bachelor's degrees; one in American Studies/History and the other in Physical Therapy. What many people didn’t know was that he minored in dance and was classically trained in ballet. Oh, the looks and the ribbing he would get whenever people found out. As a physical therapist he worked hard and really enjoyed seeing his rehabilitating cardiac and pulmonary patients get their full function and lives back. Unable to let go of a dream, Larry also chose to become a fire fighter because he felt it was his calling. Yes, you read that right, he worked as both a fire fighter and a physical therapist simultaneously.

After my near fatal ski accident, it was Larry who worked tirelessly for over a year with my physical therapist to double team me and continuously inspire me to work through my numbness and then excruciating pain in the hope that I would someday walk again. One crucial day, after weeks of trying to walk and failing each time, I lay slumped on the floor in tears refusing to be touched or moved. I had reached my personal line in the sand and had come up short. At that moment I had not only given up on walking I had given up on me. No one that knew me could believe it. My physical therapist was so concerned she called Larry up to let him know what was going on. Within 20 minutes he was by my side with a small boom box in hand. After laying on the floor next to me and talking to me awhile, he knew I felt I had given it all I had and felt I had no more effort left to give. He then sat up and gave me a stern talking to, the likes of which I had never experienced before. I still wouldn’t get up off the floor. Knowing that dance was one of my true passions he finally stood up and said to me: “Okay then, take a good look because this is what you’re giving up on by not trying to walk again.” He then turned on the boom box and began to dance an incredible and breathtaking routine that made both hospital staff and patients, stop, stare, and clap their hearts out once he was finished. After catching his breath he turned to me and as he extended his hand said: “I want my dance partner back… why don’t we try to do this one together?” And though I was exhausted, by the tenth try I had managed to stand on my own 2 feet long enough for it to be considered great progress. That was all I and everyone else needed to convince us that my Physical Therapist and Larry were right, that I would walk again.

This is just one of the many pivotal moments in which he played a major role, contributing positively and in so doing guiding me to a better life. But our friendship was not a one way street. He greatly admired my relief and rescue work that I did with the International American Red Cross and Int'l Catholic Charities and wished he could do more himself. And that was yet another dream come true. Shortly before he died, he had been given the honor of training to become a member of the elite fire department’s team that travels to other cities and countries to help with disaster relief efforts. In the end, he died doing what he loved to do most: help people in need.

When he left us, there was a huge void that was created in the hearts of his loved ones that perhaps will never be filled. He touched so many lives in the community he loved, that our town leaders voted to have a street re-named in his honor in 2002.

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Somehow, that wasn’t enough for us. So those that loved him got together once again and pushed to have our local park re-named after him. This was finally accomplished and below you’ll see a picture of the plaque at one of the entrance’s to the park that is currently being reconstructed. Whenever I miss him greatly, that is where I go to connect to him. That’s where I go to remember the many antics, races, and get togethers to just hang out and catch up on our lives that we used to do. In a way, I’m really glad that I returned to the US after living in Asia for a few years in the spring before 9/11, because it gave me a chance for us to get to see how our lives had grown. I am especially grateful that l got to talk to him that morning. As tough as things were for me after the death of all of them, I think it would have been worse not having spoken to him. While Mikes’ body has never been found, I’m grateful that Larry’s body was. On September 20th, 2001 Larry was honored and laid to rest in the neighborhood he so loved.

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My son recently asked if he could visit them both at their graves and bring flowers and a drawing he had made for them. It might seem like a strange request from a 7 year old, but to me it’s yet another signal that they both want me to say goodbye and start moving on with my life. I know they want me to finally open up and let new people into my life. The truth of the matter is, I know what's ahead if I don’t listen to them, I will encounter a thousand different signs and sounds that will be constant reminders of this tragedy, until I take that step, no matter how unsteady it may be.

Dear Larry,

You are the last one of my friends who died that day and who I’ve resisted writing to all these years. Mainly I've resisted because even after all this time it’s been hard to accept that you’re gone. Even after all these years, the memory of your friendship, loving support, and strength have sustained me and continue to sustain me to this day.

I think that in writing the drafts of this post I’ve purged a lot of pain and sadness. It feels like I've finally begun to embrace the wonderful memories we shared in our youth as good and happy times. Now I just want to say thank you. Thank you for the love you gave me, especially whenever my life or world was falling apart. Thank you for the laughter we shared that helped me forget all my troubles, even when cancer reared it’s ugly head in my life. Thank you for inspiring me to continue to achieve and succeed, despite the obstacles that would come my way. And thank you for such an incredibly strong and constant friendship, that stood both the test of time and thousands of miles when I lived in Asia.

With your nagging voice in my head, I’ve begun planning to incorporate running back into my life. You better than anyone know what my life is like, but I also know that you won’t accept any of my excuses. But just like you helped me to recover from cancer, and helped me to walk and dance again, I’m hoping that through my writing I’ll have a break through and can get back to living as boldly as we once did. I still need to figure out a way to do everything, including running, so I’m hoping that you’ll guide me through this process too. And maybe, just maybe, someday I’ll also be able to find another dance partner as good as you.

Yes, I know, I know… no one will ever be as good as you, but I should at least try to find someone. Don’t you think? Thanks for having been such an incredible friend! "Yeah, you're 1 in million" :) Sorry, couldn’t help myself; I had to go there for old time's sake.

Know that you’ll remain in my heart forever!

Sharing Big Hugs & Kisses,


Dave in NYC said...

Absolutely beautiful. I knew Larry and he would be proud of what you wrote.

Journey said...


Thanks for stopping by, reading and honoring our friend.

Since I wrote that post and letter I am in a much better place. I'm hoping we all are because that would make him very happy.

M from nyc

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree he was one in a million, the other 999,999 miss him terribly and also cannot believe he is gone! Heaven must have needed true angels to have taken him from us so soon. In my heart and soul he will always be. I too have a special place I go when thinking of Larry, I believe he sees me when I am there because I get a calming feeling whenever I visit. When I go I leave a little part of me there. I give him my love and a kiss till I return again. He was by far the most selfless and giving person I knew always deeply caring for his fellow man or woman, he is my hero I hope he knows that! Sabino misses most, I hold him in my arms for you, as I know you would given the chance. We all miss and love you sooooo much. Until we meet again.....{{hugs}} and kisses Yvette