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Near-death experiences change people, and our friend Luc Leplae had more than his share of them. He was a man who truly led two lives before he died in June of 2000. In his first life, he was a physics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In his second life he was a cartoonist. In both lives he was a unique personality. I tried to capture that in my comments at his funeral:
I suspect Luc really appreciated yesterday's visitation, the warmth of the crowd, the laughter, the occasional tears, more like a party than a funeral. Laughter was his specialty, tears weren't, but I doubt that he minded them. After all, he had a caring relationship with many of us. We'll miss his warmth, his playfulness, his generosity, his humor, and you have to cry when you lose someone with those qualities.
He was part of my everyday life, so I'll miss him every day. When I check my Email, I'll know I won't be receiving any more jokes from him. He filtered them well, sent only the funny ones. Once he let a gross one slip through and said to me afterwards, slightly amused, "I think I made a mistake."
I'll miss him when I glance down the alley next to the Leplaes and know we won't be doing tai chi there every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Luc studied the videotapes and learned the tai chi forms before everyone else did, then helped those who hadn't learned it.
I'll miss him when I pass the bike racks at Schwartz Books or Stone Creek Coffee and know I won't see Luc's three-wheeler. Like me, he was a biker and a cafe writer. He tootled around, seat close to the ground because he couldn't risk falling.
I'll miss him when my computer spirals out of control. He initiated many of us into the mysterious world of the internet and Email, taught me how to use my scanner, to set up a web page, send mass Emails. Whenever he found a fresh bit of computer info, he'd pass it on to me. And he'd sit at my computer for hours if I needed a trouble-shooter.
Everything I've mentioned is part of Luc's second life, and I haven't even mentioned his art, which speaks for itself (www.uwm.edu:80/People/luc/).
And I haven't mentioned his close family. That was important in both lives.
The first time I said good-bye forever to Luc was in 1992:
- 2/9/92 Though we knew his illness is serious, we hadn't realized how quickly Luc's health has deteriorated. We had dinner there, and later, when Genevieve brought him up to bed, the rest of us sat silently, crying.
- 2/14/92 Today the doctor told Genevieve to get the rest of the children home if they want to see Luc again. His liver has shrunk to seven centimeters.
- 2/20/92 Luc's head was clear, his humor back, he was the self we never again expected to see. But no one can live without a liver.... The doctor says Luc's too old, and his heart isn't strong enough for a transplant. Anyway he doesn't want one. His family and friends are around him, he's not in pain. He'd rather go out peacefully.
By some miracle, Luc survived 1992. It wasn't his best year. He tinkered around, built a model solar-powered car, was determined not to die, yet wasn't sure what he wanted to do with whatever time he had left.
In January 1993, Luc was given a new liver and a new life. I brought him a drawing pad and craypas while he was still in the hospital. I don't know if he ever used them. He definitely did start drawing, quickly found his own style and voice, became a cartoonist, and spent his second life showing the rest of us, through delightful drawings and words, the high and low points of his first life, in Europe during the Second World War, in China, in Milwaukee, in his post-operative coma, always, always, with humor and playfulness.
I loved that playfulness and humor. The Rosenblatts and Leplaes have spent hundreds of evenings playing charades, writing group stories, drawing group drawings, playing dictionary, making up our own games, or just sitting around talking and laughing uproariously. Luc was always at the center. He thrived on all this. He tended to be the instigator. I'm pretty sure our alphabet dinners were his creation. We had weekly potlucks and one night Luc said that every dish we bring had to begin with the letter A. The following potluck everything began with the letter B. When we came to X, everything had to be X-rated. We ran through the alphabet almost two times.
Luc had the mind of a scientist, always curious, always anxious to get to the bottom of things, always ready to meet a mental challenge. But he also had the creative, playful, no pretense, anything goes attitude of an artist.
Luc lived his whole second life knowing it was a bonus. He did Qi Gong and tai chi and biked every day when possible. He opened his life up to the world with his cartoons, he became a computer expert and set up a web page that featured those cartoons. As of last night, his page had over 39000 hits!
Still, when I watched the tenderness with which Genevieve and the children treated him as he lay dying, it was clearer than ever that love was what had enabled Luc to survive.
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