By Erin Moyer II Opinion & Editorial Editor
I had different plans for my op-ed piece this week. I was actually really ambitious about it, for once: I wanted to tackle something like, say, how gender dynamics affect classroom discussion. Yeah, F&M, I was going to take it there. I’m the odd Opinions and Editorials editor who actively flees from conflict, but I did intend to bring it on this week. I planned on something thoughtful, provocative, and even—dare I say it—controversial.
But then, as we all know, something happened. This past Wednesday, our campus learned of Chuck Leayman’s passing. And suddenly, my plans to pound away at divisive issues felt grossly inappropriate. Because the absolute kindest soul was just taken from our community. And the last thing I want to do right now is put something else strident and hard-edged into this paper or, really, the world.
I would like to spend a bit of time here talking about what Mr. Leayman meant to me. I am not his coworker, nor his close friend, nor anyone remotely special. I’m just another average, stressed-out F&M kid, passing through Martin and trying to be a person. And even so, he managed to mean quite a lot.
With the phrase “trying to be a person,” I’m talking about what I imagine many of my fellow students might understand: I’m talking about the pressure. I’m talking about the late nights and terrible coffee and awkward conversations. I’m talking about trying to hold yourself together freshman year, trying to adjust to the workload, trying to stand out in a ridiculously driven student body, trying to look good, trying to be cool. College can be fun, of course, but college can wear you down. College can make you low. College can make being a person hard.
But then, you turn up at the library, and you look at Mr. Leayman. You look at the most giving, gentle man you can possibly imagine. You look at him, placed quietly behind the front desk in Martin, always giving you a kind smile as you charge to the printer. You see him on campus with a book, on Saturdays at Central Market, walking here, there, everywhere. Mr. Leayman begins to seem like a fixture at F&M. And you realize, as your years here go by, oh right: Mr. Leayman is a fixture at F&M.
And he just exudes such humanity, such charity and kindness for every bit of life around him, that over time you yourself, the kid trying desperately to just resemble a person, can take comfort from his generosity. You can even be inspired by his example. You can sort of relearn how a good, gentle, curious person should be. He gives you a rung to reach for.
I brushed paths with Mr. Leayman only on occasion, but I was lucky for even that. One morning, perhaps a month or so into my freshman year, I leapt out of bed after a refreshing three hours of sleep and made a beeline for Martin Library. My freshman seminar was meeting at 8:30, and I was determined to print my paper at Martin as early as physically possible. So I arrive to discover what you, dear reader, may already know: Martin Library does not actually open until 8. This left me ample time to ponder whether leaving my dorm at 7:40 had been a bit overzealous.
I stand outside of the building like the sole protestor at the world’s saddest lock-out: cold, crazed, full of frustration. I’m feeling pretty embarrassed. I’m feeling pretty done. And as time passes, and I slowly realize that several things I’m no longer feeling are my fingers, who but Mr. Leayman suddenly hurries across the patio, fumbling with his keys. He didn’t meet my eyes as he hastened to say, “I am so, so sorry to be this late.” I glanced down at my phone. 8:02 a.m..
I hope, as he and I walked into the library together, I managed to communicated those two minutes were of landmark unimportance. I doubt I managed to achieve verbs, though; for some reason, the first thing I did upon entering Martin was plop down by the computers and bury my face in my hands. Yes, this was where I would stay.
“Are you okay?” someone asked me quietly. I looked up and found a pair of anxious eyes. There was Mr. Leayman again, hovering a little ways away from me. He seemed worried. I gaped stupidly back at him. Had I freaked him out? Were my fingers blue? What?
But I dimly realized: Oh. Mr. Leayman was concerned about me. He genuinely, actually cared that I was not okay. This was…very kind. I wanted to tell him of course, not to worry, but my throat felt oddly tight. So I settled for a jerky nod. He seemed to understand all the same. With his own nod, and with an immeasurably sympathetic smile, he turned on the computers and continued on his quiet way.
I barely knew Mr. Leayman, of course. But here’s what I do know, and here’s what I will remember: He took time out of his morning to make sure a random freshman was okay. He did not have to do that. He could have so easily just turned on the computers and carried on, but he instead chose to check on me. And perhaps this might not seem like such a grand gesture. But to a tense, lonely eighteen-year-old like me, it meant the world. He managed to make me feel cared about, worthwhile, valuable and valued. He made me feel more like a person. And as I read more and more words from his friends, his colleagues, and from our community, an experience like mine with Mr. Leayman seems only standard.
I got so, so used to Mr. Leayman’s kind presence in Martin. I got so used to the smiles and the gentleness and the sheer decency he brought to my time at F&M. I got spoiled, maybe. I got lucky. We all did. Because life can get dark, and Mr. Leayman’s simple kindness gave our whole community a bright place to come back to. We’ll miss you like crazy, Mr. Leayman. But we were so lucky to have you at all. Thank you for everything.