“The Leo Buscaglia Miracle”

In 1969, while Barry and I were living in Nashville, Tennessee, where Barry was in medical school, I began to have a very strong desire to go back to school and get another degree. I had an RN and BS degree, and worked as a public health nurse, but it didn’t feel like enough. I didn’t even know what I wanted to study, I just felt that I needed to be back in school learning again. I could hardly think of anything else. Barry and I talked and decided that, when he finished medical school, I would go back to school. We needed my salary, and neither of us could figure out a way for me to return to school and support both of us at the same time. Waiting three more years seemed almost impossible to me.


Our friend Jim invited us to a party and told us we would meet a special professor from USC in Los Angeles. Without much enthusiasm, we went and were not prepared for the force of love that hit us when we met Dr. Leo Buscaglia for the first time. Right away, he hugged us. Then, he launched into the deepest appreciation we had ever received.


We had never been hugged by anyone other than each other and our parents. It’s hard for people to believe but, especially in the Eastern United States in the late sixties, most people did not hug. They shook hands. Leo’s parents were Italian immigrants, and Leo learned from them and hugged everyone. In all of our lives, we had never experienced such an open loving man who included all of us in his love.


Throughout that evening, we could hardly stop looking at Leo, and marveling at his ability to reach out, hug and love complete strangers. After that evening, we longed to be around Leo and his amazing energy. We felt changed by our connection with him. The next day, he traveled back to his home in Los Angeles and we stayed in Nashville. Seeing him again seemed very unlikely.


With my urging and desire to leave the South, and with Leo still in the back of our minds, Barry applied for a transfer to two schools in Los Angeles, USC and UCLA, to finish his last two years of medical school. And, miracle of miracles, he was accepted by both! He flew to Los Angeles to choose between the schools, and decided upon USC, the more clinical and less research-oriented school at the time.


Barry: Boarding my flight back from Los Angeles, I walked down the aisle, ticket stub in one hand, carry-on bag in the other, looking for my seat. It was a window seat in a small plane with a two-by-two configuration. I saw my seat, and saw that the aisle seat was occupied by a man quite a bit older than me. He smiled warmly and, when I stowed my bag in the overhead bin and pointed to the seat past him, instead of getting up, he gestured to the seat. It felt a bit strange. Did he expect me to climb over him to get to my seat?


I said, “Excuse me, would you mind letting me get to my seat?”


His response, “Sure. You’re a young buck. Just hop over me.”


I thought maybe he was crippled and was brought to the seat in a wheelchair.


I said, “Are you able to stand up?”


He said, “Sure, but I just thought it would be more fun for you to climb over me.”


I was starting to feel uncomfortable. I said, “If you don’t mind, I’d rather you stood up.”


He looked slightly disappointed, but obliged.


I was happy to walk rather than climb to my seat. I sat down, buckled in, and looked out the window, hoping to avoid any more weirdness.


Then I heard him say, “Hi, my name is Bill. What’s yours?”


Cringing inside, I turned away from the window and there he was, smiling and offering his hand. I reluctantly shook hands and noticed that he held my hand a bit longer than was comfortable to me.


Finally, I got it. He was obviously picking up on me. Sometimes, I’m a bit dense. I needed a quick way to change gears.


“Good to meet you. My name’s Barry. I’m excited to be going home to my wife in Nashville.”


I noticed the briefest flash of disappointment on his face, but he recovered quickly and said, “I’m also going home to Nashville but, alas, I’m single. But it looks like I’ll be moving to Los Angeles. I just got a job at USC.”


That perked my interest. And it seemed he had let go of me as a possible love interest.


“Wow,” I said, “We’re also moving. I just got accepted for my final two years of medical school at USC. What’s your new job at USC?”


Bill sat up straighter in his seat, letting the conversation change gears, “I just got hired to manage a new master’s degree program for a professor there.”


“My wife, Joyce, and I just met a USC professor visiting Nashville who completely blew our minds. His name was Leo Buscaglia.”


Bill burst out laughing. “What a small world! That’s who I’ll be working for!”


My heart nearly skipped a beat. “What an amazing coincidence! (I didn’t yet believe in miracles or divine guidance.) What exactly will you be doing for Leo?”


Bill answered, “I’ve been hired to enroll ten students in a brand-new master’s degree program that will last only one year under the direct supervision of Dr. Buscaglia.” He continued, “These ten students will be given a full scholarship plus living expenses and take most of their classes with Leo. I’ve been hired to interview the many students who will apply for this special program and pick out just ten.”


I was beginning to wonder if this was really happening or just a dream, but I found my voice, “My wife has an RN and BS, but really wants to go back to school. I think she would be perfect for the program.”


Bill closed his eyes and was silent for a few seconds, then opened his eyes and said, “Okay, she can be my first student to be accepted.”


Just like that!


I could not believe this great blessing. Not only could Joyce go back to school and have it all paid for, but she would be having most of her classes with this amazing man that we had met in Nashville. It would turn out to be a year that completely changed her life.

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