One year ago, but it seems like yesterday...

It was a year ago today that the world lost my friend, student, training partner and, yes, teacher, Anwar Leonard.
I had no idea that much time had passed. I think of him often and I feel his absence constantly so in a sense, that moment of loss is still present and ongoing.  It hit hard a couple of weeks ago when the news broke that Chris Cornell had taken his own life in Detroit. It wasn't so painful just because he was famous. It was painful because I am close to people who were close to him. One of the DJ's on KEXP that day described Seattle as not so much a small city as a big neighborhood and it's hard to go far without running into someone who has a great memory or story about Chris.

That was so true about Anwar.

His family took a couple of weeks to process as well as they could the loss of their son and then put one foot in front of the other and arranged a memorial. For the friends mostly... we needed to remember him out loud and we needed to let them know how much he meant to us. A buffet and reception room for comfort downstairs, an auditorium for speeches and memories upstairs. A lovely home in a residential neighborhood that had enough room to have been converted to that purpose a long time ago, maybe it had spent some time as a fraternal lodge way back when.

The response to the call was amazing...

Teachers from elementary school, buddies from high school, buddies from two different colleges, gamers that he hung out with at Cafe MOC, teachers from high school, teachers who'd  taught him to throw a middle punch when he was ten years old, training partners who'd watched him grow big enough to throw them across a room, pretty much the entire body of the dojo he had been training at for the last couple of years, Family from across the country.

Standing room only. That boy was loved.

The following are my remarks from that afternoon...

Mary, James, 
Thank you for arranging this gathering, this celebration. I cannot begin to fathom how this feels to you, this loss. I'm so sorry.

In a small way, a somewhat cushioned, part time kind of way, I get it. I think we all do. Anyone who taught him, or stood by his side on the mat, or at a party, or at the movies, anyone who was lucky enough to watch him grow up. We get it. He was yours. He'll always be yours. 

But he was ours, too. 

He was so cool. Every time he stepped out on the mat with that big, bright smile and that crazy, top heavy body of his... he would move across the floor and despite his size and weight, he seemed to glide. Did you ever notice that? Maybe it was because there was just so much of him, he was easier to track. Even when he was moving fast, he seemed to be in slow motion. I was watching Game of Thrones a couple of weeks ago and I looked at the way they made that giant move. For every three fast steps, somebody took, the giant took  one slow one. I thought "I've seen that before someplace... Oh, Yeah. Anwar". 

Anwar. He was in my life from my first days at Quantum. I got to watch him grow up in front of my eyes. Well, not entirely. I'd go off on a road trip for a few weeks and when i came back it seemed like he'd be six inches taller. Then suddenly this little kid I knew was looking down at me and I'm looking up at him and I'm thinking "this is so not cool. What are they feeding him?".

And if it seemed like he moved in slow motion, that doesn't mean you could stop him if you tried. Just 'cause you see a thing coming, that does not always help you. He'd lean his body over, I'd hear the floor creak, feel it shift and he'd just sidekick me across the room. Almost as hard as his Dad could... gotta be honest there, James.


And that was just one thing about him that was amazing. At any time, he could have relied on that tremendous size to dominate people, to frighten them or intimidate them or punish them or just to win. He never did. I never saw him use his strength in anger. I never saw him knock a person down without helping them back up. If he did hurt you, you knew it was an accident. He would apologize and it would not happen again.

Anwar wanted to do things right. He wanted to learn. One of my favorite things was watching him take a bit of knowledge in, process it and make a connection. He'd tilt his head to the side, frown a little bit, and then you could see the lightbulb go on over his head. He'd nod and and then that smile would just spread from ear to ear. 

I remember the last time I saw that smile. I use a bank over on 8th Ave, right next to Chao's Krav Maga studio. I knew Anwar had been training there. And I knew he loved it.  I was getting into my car and heard "Mr. Delaney!". And there he was, bigger than life, looking like a million bucks and all grown up. All in black, with like a vest over his jacket. All the baby fat was gone, like he'd lost a whole me's worth of body weight. and his face was slim. He'd grown that goatee and he had it twisted into a braid with a little bead. He looked like Khal Drago from "Game of Thrones". He was beautiful. And I thought "Dude, where's your Khaleesi?".

We stood by my car and caught up for a few minutes. It was getting on rush hour and we both  had to get home. I was going north, he said he was going west, on the bus. I said "No, you're not. I'll take you home." I just didn't want the moment to end. I was so happy to see him. I didn't want to let him go.

I still don't. You still don't. We still don't. But now what do we do? I've  done this so many times before. For students. For friends. For people I loved. It leaves a big hole in you and we each have to fill it in our own way. But we can, and we can still hold Anwar in our hearts. When we train, we can try to train with that same humility, dedication and grace. When we see someone in pain and struggling with things maybe we don't understand, we can try to watch over them and try to steer them towards getting some help.. In this room, we have teachers and writers and artists and dancers and doctors and cops, and nerds ... lots of nerds...all sorts of people with all sorts of skills. Maybe we can try to tell Anwar's story... whatever that means to you. Don't give in to sadness. Make something of this in your lives, with your voices, with your talents for the rest of the people you care about.

There's a quote that came to me when I got the news. I posted it on Facebook and I think it's worth repeating. It's from Hemingway...

"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."

So, be good, my friends, but not so good that you miss out on all the fun. And be gentle, but not so gentle that I can't hear you when you need help, and be brave, but only as brave as you can be. 

Nobody's perfect and no one has to go through this life alone.


And thank you.

There is no way to understand that moment when one person reaches the point when they feel that they have no choice but to leave this world. Maybe it's brain chemistry, depression or loneliness or all of them or none of them. Who knows? Whoever you are, however far down you feel, you will leave a bigger hole than you can conceive of. It's not worth it. Let's just pay attention to each other, speak up for ourselves, and be kind whenever we can, okay?


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