While going through my dad’s files after he passed, I found a small piece of yellow scrap paper with the words “Always set an extra place” written in his handwriting. This wasn’t the only piece of scrap paper with ‘dad messages’ that I found, there were many. Compact life lessons that I bet he was eventually planning to put into a book.
My dad was a teacher by trade. An english teacher, the one who made an impact on students that stayed with them for life. As a young girl we would run into former students in a store or restaurant, and they would be so genuinely thrilled to see my dad. It ALWAYS held us up from whatever task we were doing, I would stand there tapping my foot while they would chat away, trading tales of the classroom, and catching up on current news. When I was a teenager people would hear my last name, and the inevitable question would arise; “Are you Mr. Reilly’s daughter?”. He was a teacher not only in the classroom, but in the hallways, the athletic fields, the parking lots, and anywhere you would run into him. He was always “ON” and it wasn’t always about classroom subject matters. He incorporated life lessons in everything he did, and a little part of Mr. Reilly stayed with these students for life. A former student of dad’s went on to be a Principal of a middle school, and spoke of my father and what he taught him in his end of year commencement address. Life lessons he learned at a ninth grader, that he uses to this day. He shared this speech with our family, and fortunately I was able to read this speech to my dad six months before he passed away.
For as long as I can remember he was teaching. He lived his life teaching others. He took every opportunity to make people better, whether they realized it at the time or now. The term ‘pay it forward’ was his middle name. He could be post-op at NYP, struggling with whatever illness he was battling, even arguing with his physical therapist at St. James rehab (his least favorite facility), and he would be handing out prayer cards and sharing stories of resilience to strangers who needed a lift. He made friends with everyone, and he made it his business to make sure he put a smile on people’s faces. He delivered small gifts to deserving recipients, he handed out medals, rosary’s, and his pockets were filled with who knows what. Many people commented at his wake how they would miss his warm roll and bakery deliveries – you never knew when you would find a bakery box or white paper bag on your front steps or tied on your door (this was my dad’s trademark). Generous was his middle name.
Why am I writing this Thanksgiving morning? Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful, to focus on all the things we are grateful for. What I have realized is that the best thing I can do to get through this holiday season, is to remember how my dad lived. How at his physical worst, he was still teaching. He was still giving, he was still sharing. It is no secret that I am struggling with the holidays approaching, but I plan to dig into these life lessons, and put them to use. I pan to pay it forward, and be the person he would want me to be. If you find a bakery box on your front steps, just smile. It’s from my dad.
Today, I will set an extra place, because that’s what he asked me to do. I know he will be here.
With love & gratitude, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.