Forever in Our Hearts

“Forever”
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people move our souls to dance. They awaken us to new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom and make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. Some people stay in our lives awhile, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.” – Flavia

I first met Peter Schleifer on Monday, May 2nd, 2005, my first day working at South Bay’s Neighbor Newspapers. From that day forward, I had a friend for life.

I used to always joke with him that he was my official “mentor” - except I wasn’t really kidding.  For whatever reason, he took one look at me on that first day and somehow saw more potential there than I ever realized I had.

Within a little over two months, he had decided that I should have my very own column. And so, with that, he took it upon himself to inquire to the publisher on my behalf. Two and a half years – and some one hundred-odd columns later – here I am, still writing. And to think that none of it would have ever been if not for Peter…

Looking back, his influence didn’t merely extend to this column. I became, within a very short span, something of his personal assistant, accompanying him to a host of photo shoots, as he called them, in Babylon Village – for grand openings, for elementary schools’ Arbor Day ceremonies, for Babylon Rotary meetings and events at La Grange... The list went on and on, and the formula was always the same. Peter, as the “photographer,” would orchestrate the photos; and I – the “reporter,” as he would introduce me – would dutifully take notes (always remembering to give him proper “photo credit,” of course!).

As the months passed and I acquired a little more experience, he would ask me to accompany him to some of his larger advertising accounts. There, I would read through a list of interview questions (which he had compiled), and then use their responses to compose a feature article. What a team.

Time after time – whether while driving to sales accounts in his car, walking through Babylon Village to the latest ribbon cutting ceremony, or simply stopping by his desk to chat – we would talk about my writing, my career aspirations, my insecurities and hang-ups. Each time, by the end of the conversation, he would manage to put things in perspective for me, as only he – in his halting Hungarian accent – could do. “Jamsie,” he would say, “It’s never as bad as you think it is. You’re young, you’re just starting out, you have all this potential… Stop thinking you’re so insignificant and get on with it.”

I have to admit, there were many times when I used to walk away thinking he just didn’t get it; he didn’t truly understand. But, as time went on, I came to realize that, if anything, he understood me even better than most. He refused to placate me, to sympathize; instead choosing to push me to go even farther.

Eventually, I took his advice, and I tried to implement it. And, in the end, I think I did him – and myself – proud. There was one particular moment, when we had gone out to lunch for his birthday… As he sat across from me at the table, he suddenly shook his head in wonder and remarked, “You know, you’ve grown so much since I first met you. In a few short years, you’ve become a different, more mature, confident person. You should be so proud…I’m so proud.”

Peter passed away on December 23rd, 2007 after a brief bout with cancer.  

My time here at Neighbor Newspapers will never be quite the same. 

On days when I happen to walk in a few minutes late, I still half expect to see him sitting there at his desk, pointing to his watch and shaking his head in mock disapproval. As I sit at my computer, I am surrounded by photos which he took and gave to me to decorate my cubicle. And, as I sit on my chair, I literally lean against a pillow which he bought for me, intended to be a “cure” for his constant admonitions to “sit up straight!”
Now, when I write my column each week, I print one less copy, as I used to always leave an “advance preview” on his desk. Most times, I would find a voicemail or e-mail from him later that same day, offering feedback – and not always of the positive variety, mind you!

I truly believe that everyone comes into our lives for a reason. I also believe that we are always better off for having known them, no matter how brief a time it may have been.  

Peter helped to ease my transition into my first real job, into so-called “adulthood.” He was a true mentor, and will remain so; his words of wisdom continue to punctuate my thoughts and actions, pushing me to strive for that next level.

My life may never be the same without him, but it was made that much richer because of him.

 

{Published: January 30th, 2008}

 

Jamie Lynn RyanComment