The USC Celebration
Statement by Steven Short
You all know that Leo always started his presentations with stories about his name - how it was misspelled and mispronounced.
It was understandable to me that an Italian name with a silent letter could cause problems in an Anglicized society. But if you read Leo's obituary in The New York Times - "the publication of record" - you saw that they got "Buscaglia" right ... but misspelled "Steven Short"! They made me Stephen with a "ph," not Steven with a "v."
Leo's will specifically forbade a formal funeral service. He did, however, request two Celebrations for family and friends. One of the first calls we received after Leo's death was announced was from the USC School of Education, saying that they wanted to have an event to honor him. So on behalf of the Buscaglia Family and myself, I want to deeply and sincerely thank Dean Gib Henschke and Development Director Molly Cooney for taking the responsibility of planning and hosting this event for us. I also want to acknowledge the participants from the School of Music, who are listed in the printed program.
Dean Henschke's first response when I mentioned that this was to be a "Celebration" was one of heartfelt mourning. He said it would be difficult to use that word, because of our loss. I had to correct him. I said, "If we can't use the word celebration in connection with the life of Leo Buscaglia, then that word should be erased and retired from the English language!"
Leo celebrated life to the fullest! And that's what people loved about him.
And he didn't keep it to himself, either! Everyone here can remember how he would exclaim with unfettered joy at the smallest thing. And being close to him, we also know this was not an act for the TV cameras. Several of you here today knew him long before he was ever discovered by television, and you know he was the same exhuberant Leo all the time.
He said on many occasions that the person who wails and gnashes their teeth the loudest at the moment of death is the one who realizes they have wasted life.
He was in no rush to die, but he also did not fear death. "Perhaps," he said, "the fact of life most conducive to living fully as a person is an honest awareness and acceptance of death. When we can embrace death as simply another aspect of the life cycle, we will give appreciation and value to each life encounter knowing it will never occur again."
While he died suddenly, there are several indications that he knew the end was near. Our usual office schedule understandably came to a halt when Leo died June 12th - a date, I'm told, that is Valentine's Day in Brazil. There were still letters to be typed, which he had written longhand - I used to accuse him of using a quill. His audio cassette of The Fall of Freddie the Leaf, which deals with death, is off the market, and we just heard from a small funeral home chain in Pennsylvania that they have arranged for a private production to give to clients. These comments come from Leo's reply to that letter, written the day he died. While this was never meant to be made public, I think you will agree that the content, and circumstances, justify reading someone else's mail:
I am very honored by your enthusiasm regarding "Freddie." It's always been a crusade for me to help irradicate our culture's fear of death. As you know - I grew up in a very large Italian family, with all ages under one roof. It was easy to see and understand the normal progression of life - including death. We learned early that we were all mortal, that we didn't have forever, that love is always in the now, that all things come to an end - that life is to be celebrated each moment, that to put things off is to risk losing them forever, and most of all - that there is always a new beginning.
So many professionals who should know better themselves, fear death - and how can they expect to help others overcome fear and dread when they are overwhelmed by it? When one makes peace with death - the meaning and preciousness of life become crystal clear.
It should give all of us a sense of peace knowing that Leo was this comfortable with the subject just hours before his own death.
Also this past week, his listing in Who's Who in America arrived for proofing, and I found this "life statement," which they have included for several years:
In the last analysis, the only things of real value are the people we have loved, the acts of goodness we've performed, and the ways in which we've left the world a better place for generations to come.
Leo said in lectures, and on many other occasions, that he had already written his epitath. He said he wanted these words on his tombstone:
HERE LIES LEO, WHO DIED LIVING!
I am happy to report that that is exactly the way he ended his life ... living it with a passion!
At this time, I want to announce the details of the "world wide event" you saw mentioned on your invitations.
People all over the world cherish Leo's works, and find them inspiring in their lives. We have some closure in this Celebration today. But what about people in Finland, and Thailand, and Brazil, and Italy? How can they mark Leo's passing?
Since he is known and loved all around the world, we're organizing a world wide event called "Keep Love Alive." Here's what will happen:
At sunset on Saturday, July 18th, 1998, anyone interested in remembering Leo's life should go to the most beautiful spot available to them - preferrably with someone, or in a group. Dedicate that sunset to Leo's memory. And, just as you have been asked today, also state some concrete way that you personally are going to help perpetuate Leo's legacy of love. Dedicate the sunset to Leo's memory - that honors the past. Then ... project into the future by stating how you will be more loving.
Here's the powerful part: It will take all day for this event to be completed, going all around the world. There should really be a special resonance because everyone will know that thousands - or even millions, depending on your time zone - will be participating at exactly the same time. It will take an entire earth rotation to complete this event.
An entire day where people around the world are seriously focusing on the power of love. Imagine!
What better way to celebrate the life and work of Leo Buscaglia ...
I was delighted when this location (Alumni Memorial Park) was chosen, because I have a site-specific story concerning Leo and that fountain over there. But since I'm noted for my wit, and brevity is the sole of wit, you'll have to ask me to tell that on another day. Instead, I'll share a couple of quick comments I've heard since Leo's death, from people who are unable to be at this gathering. This will hopefully set the tone for your sharing, so that we can end this event on the same afternoon on which it began. The first was told to me by a man in our post office parking lot at Lake Tahoe. The second was relayed from a friend in Switzerland.
The first man said, "Many people make headlines, only a few make history. Leo made history."
The other, upon hearing of Leo's death, thought a moment and said, "Well ... now when we go to Heaven, we know St. Peter will have someone with him at the Gates to give us a welcoming hug."
Our purpose in being here is to honor and remember Leo, which is appropriate. But let me tell you - if you really want to honor his memory, follow his example:
Make a special effort to look for the good in everyone and see the beauty in God's world ... and express it!
Leo often said,
God's gift to you is life itself.
What you do with it
is your gift to God.
God received an extremely precious and beautiful gift on June 12th.