Saturday, May 24, 2014

What I think about when I think about Michael.

My friend Michael died a few days ago.

Space. Breath. Space.

I now see him everywhere, in places he never inhabited. In some ways, it's lovely to think about someone who always made me smile, but in other ways his memory is too raw, too sad.

I feel empty and full of him. And I can hear him talking in my head, astonished by the way he died. At 40, quietly. In his sleep.

Michael and I met at work soon after he started his job. He was sweet and smiley and told me in those early days that he couldn't believe I was 40, "you're so fresh-faced!" Michael's compliments were genuine, a bit anachronistic, and always heartfelt.

He was a contemplative guy, always learning and often exploring new ways of living, whether it was improving his grammar, learning about pickling, or joining a foodie club that took him on unbelievable adventures. He was adventurous at the curious level--not a risk taker, but a life-taker. I learned a lot from him, even though he was officially my mentee. And that was my pleasure: mentoring. Because our relationship was all about learning from each other. We'd tuck in to a conference room to eat lunch together and share difficulties we were experiencing and really, just listen. I pushed him and he pushed me back, always with pride in each others accomplishments.

I learned of his death through a coworker while I was at work. I sat down, my mouth drawn wide, and immediately had this electric feeling of connection to him, as if he could hear me. And I sent powerful thoughts to him of love, and I guess now that I think of it, of safety. I can't really describe how clear this pipeline was to him, and how sure I was that he was tethered to the other side, listening. I still believe it. And it brings me comfort knowing this was true.

Because Michael's work was centered around social media, it was Facebook that carried word of his death far and wide and quickly. This 21st century mode of sharing difficult news made me uncomfortable. I couldn't look at Facebook. Soon, however, his page became a thing of beauty. Michael's friends and family shared how much they loved him, what they loved about him, and how he came into their lives. Suddenly this navel-gazing platform rose up to exemplify what we all knew about Michael: kind, loving, super funny, ridiculously smart.

The last time I saw Michael I gave him a big hug, kissed him on his cheek, and told him I loved him. The last thing he told me in an instant message was, "thanks, doll!"

Both of these make me smile. Big.

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