I didn't say it to be mean. How could you be mean to a guy like him?
When Lawrence came to J.S. Woodsworth Secondary School from St. Pius X, he arrived with the disadvantage of joining a group of people who had been together for a couple of years, or longer. Friendships had been developed: cliques formed.
But that didn't seem to matter, for Lawrence. He was immediately likable, could get along with the jocks and the brainiacs, and everyone in between. He had that happy, easy-going air, was always good for a laugh.
And yet, I called him "Larry," knowing he didn't like the nickname. And yet, he never complained.
He did have other nicknames: Chiabs, Char (the second one, I only learned of this weekend). He was good with those names, embraced them as easily as his actual name.
My phone rang one weekend in the first year that Lawrence had joined my school. When I answered the call, the person on the other end said, "Hi, Ross, it's Lawrence."
"Who?" I asked. I didn't ask the question because I was trying to find out Lawrence Who? I knew only one Lawrence. But because he had never phoned me before, because I had never heard his voice through a telephone line, I didn't hear his name uttered. And so I was really asking, "Who did you say you were? I didn't catch that."
But, for a few seconds, the line went quiet. And then, in a loud, clear voice, I heard, "IT'S LARRY!"
I called him Lawrence from that day forward.
|R–L: me, Stuart McCook, Lawrence Chiabai, Bruce Holmes, in an impromptu Madness pose (photo credit: David "Sandy" Blair)|
In university, we once ran into each other at a party. We chatted about old times and old friends, and shared some laughs. But the party turned ugly when a couple of drunk guys decided to fight. One of the guys was a friend of Lawrence, and so Lawrence got in close, to lend his friend a hand, should things get too bad.
Lawrence was not a big person. And everybody who knew him knew that he had health issues, and so we always were concerned for him. I wasn't much bigger than Lawrence, but I moved in behind him, ready to help, should he get involved.
Another friend of mine, Andy, stood behind me, to help me out, should I become involved. Andy was much bigger.
Luckily, the fight was diffused and the party broke up.
I'm sure that Lawrence could have talked the guys out of the fight. Lawrence had that way of forming friendships and bringing people together.
That sentiment was repeated many times at his funeral, this weekend. And it was so true. This weekend, though sad, still took some of Lawrence's magic of building friendships. I hadn't met his wife, Debra, until this weekend, but like Lawrence, she was immediately likeable. I had met his kids before: his daughter went to the same summer camp, one year, as my eldest daughter; I met his son a couple of summers ago, when my family took a train to Montreal. Lawrence and his son were also heading to Montreal, and we were only a few seats apart. I spent a half hour, chatting, laughing, and catching up. I was also grateful that we were able to connect, on Facebook, and continue to keep in touch.
The silver lining from this weekend, which was filled with tears, both sad and joyful, was that in his death, Lawrence helped me reunite with some old friends, and reconnect those bonds.
His name was Lawrence. I will never forget that, and never forget him.