For weeks in mid February, I thought of my friend Leila Hadley Luce. One day, for example, I was driving on the Taconic Parkway, noting that the sky was staying lighter longer andwhat a relief having such a long cold winter. In rushed an impression of Leila. I remembered sitting across the table from her on Fishers Island or in her living room in Manhattan. I remembered the way she loved nature–luxuriated in it, exulted in it. She loved daffodils, for example, she aimed to have “rivers of daffodils.” But Leila didn’t just exult in sensory richness, she noticed things. I once described to her the wild stillness I had seen in a big hawk I had come eye-to-eye with sitting in a tree in some woods where I live. She told me a person have a very complete communication with an animal if he or she could meet its gaze with the same stillness. Leila’s perceptions and descriptions could be shamanic, instructive–she once described me as being like a “sea fan.”
This in not to suggest that Leila lived a small, contemplative life. She passed up college to sail around the world on a schooner. She had a string of famous and glamorous friends and lovers–S. J. Perelman encouraged her to write, a young and gorgeous Marlon Brando pursued her. The last time I saw Leila, at lunch at her apartment this past November, she was so ill she could no longer leave her bedroom. She insisted I drink champagne even though she couldn’t. She gave me a beautiful deep blue raw silk shawl and encouraged me to stay and talk with her for hours, telling her about things I had seen and experienced, including what an ice boat was and how father had built one and sailed it wearing a buffalo robe coat. It was a wonderful lunch and it made my heart twist to say goodbye because it really felt like goodbye.
As I drove on the Taconic, in rushed all these memories and a great warm feeling of love for Leila as a true and generous friend and a wonderful human being. At the end of that very week, I was heartbroken to see Leila’s obituary in the Sunday New York Times. I miss Leila Hadley Luce and I will never forget her….and I can’t help but wonder if I was sensing Leila’s radiance, her unique presence, as it left the world. At the very least, it was a reminder that there is more to us than we know and more going on in this world than we know.