Lee died in February of 2006. In May of the same year, our community endured the tragic loss of local Cornell student Ian Alberta, who died in a house fire in Collegetown. We didn’t know Ian nor any of his family members. But we immediately learned that we share a friend in common, the most awesome Leni Hochman.
While I felt deeply that no one should have to go through this at the same time with 2 close friends who’d lost their sons, if there’s anyone who’s got the “right stuff” for this it’s Leni. Maybe it’s because Leni lost her brother to a drunk driver years prior and knew what grieving a sudden loss of a young man was, first hand.
Ian’s Mom, Sherry, worked at Ithaca High. While she knew of Lee’s death in that very building, she didn’t know Lee. He’d only been there a few short months, and Sherry taught special ed. She, of course, took a good deal of time off from school after the fire. Leni and I often discussed Leni’s role as she supported 2 devastated families close to her.
Sometime after Sherry returned to the classroom (I’d say this happened 2 years after we’d lost Lee), Leni handed me an envelope over lunch. It contained one of the greatest gifts, and one of the most striking signs of Lee’s spirit. This time he was aided and abetted by Ian.
It was a note in Lee’s handwriting. Can you imagine the joy of seeing your loved one’s handwriting anew, years after we’d gone through every item we had available to us? Sherry found this inside a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn on the shelf in her classroom. A photo of the note accompanies this post. Lee wrote his name on the top right corner. We have no idea how it got there. We kept pretty good tabs on what the kids were up to in school. Being in Sherry Alberta’s classroom and/or reading this classic was never mentioned.
Lee had a notoriously bad handwriting. This was actually neat, for him. We could read every word. In case you can’t, here’s what it says:
If I had three wishes they would be one that I would be successful in what I want to do. For my family I would wish for them to have good Health and a happy life. for the earth I would wish for either no pollution or no war so the air would be clean and no war because its just plain stupid.
There’s a hundred ways that this note could’ve been discarded or stuck inside that old book, undiscovered, forever. How miraculous that it came to us. And that’s our boy for you, full of love and concern for others, with us in spirit to this day.Continue reading