A funeral Mass will be celebrated on Long Island this morning for my dear friend Danny Lehne Foley. And while I'm just heartsick at being unable to attend (was unaware of the arrangements until it was too late to arrange transportation to New York) I'd like to pay tribute to Danny here on my blog in whatever small way I can.
Danny and I met in 1997 when I became involved in the Alliance for Tolerance and Freedom, a local organization promoting tolerance and inclusion in an area not particularly known for either. As a fellow board member, Danny worked tirelessly on GLBT issues, fundraising events, as well as the organization's annual Stop the Hate rally in Lancaster, and the Progressive Voice awards event. He was also an advocate for the homeless, collecting clothing and blankets for the Crispus Attucks Community Center, where he volunteered as much as he was able, given his many health issues.
When I met him, Danny wore a beeper around his neck. A diabetic since childhood, and on dialysis, he was on a donor list and waiting for a kidney transplant. The beeper went off soon after, and Danny received a new kidney and pancreas. What followed was months of complications, rejection, and many hospital stays, but Danny faced it all bravely, and put his energy into counseling other transplant patients. When he finally came home to George, his partner of almost 30 years, and his beloved dogs Sadie and Molly, he had just a few short months of feeling well before he developed an infection on the bone of his left foot. Unable to treat the infection with antibiotics, they took Danny's leg below the knee. It was a long and painful recovery and rehabilitation, but Danny remained positive throughout it all, even cracking jokes when he sensed that strangers were uncomfortable with his prosthetic leg.
Shortly after this ordeal, George had a stroke, and was hospitalized for several weeks, before dying in Danny's arms. And although as the only child of two only children, George left no family, and Danny made all the arrangements (a beautiful service at the UU church) in his grief, Danny had to go to court for permission to bury George's ashes. An ordeal that even the conservative judge deemed an outrage.
Further to Danny's physical challenges, there were financial challenges, as Danny subsisted on a small social security disability pension and medicare benefits. He lived in a small mobile home and shopped at discount grocery outlets, yet never once complained about his situation.
Over the next several years, he faced a myriad of other health issues; heart and stomach trouble, a second infection, the amputation of several toes and eventually his right foot as well. Then a couple of years ago, Danny's new kidney began to fail and he went back on dialysis, followed by heart bypass surgery just a few months ago.
Through it all, Danny never became angry, or had an unkind word to say about anyone. He faced these challenges - any one of which would send most of us reeling - with courage and determination. I remember one particular time shortly after his first amputation, when John and I invited Danny to Thanksgiving dinner. He declined, because he wanted to serve dinner at the homeless shelter instead.
Danny Lehne Foley was without a doubt the kindest, gentlest, and bravest soul I've ever known, and it was a privilege to count him as a friend. He inspired everyone he met to be a better person, to lift up their community, to practice compassion and kindness, and to face life's challenges with dignity and grace. When I think of Danny, I think of William Henry Channing's words....
To live content with small means;
To seek elegance rather than luxury,
and refinement rather than fashion;
To be worthy , not respectable, and wealthy, not rich;
To study hard, think quietly,
To listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart;
To bear all cheerfully,
Do all bravely,
In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.
Goodbye and God Speed, my friend.