Monday, September 9, 2013

Love in the Midst of Tragedy


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In one afternoon, I was witness to a great tragedy as well as a monumental story of love.  A tragedy for a man, a woman, a child, a father, an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, a co worker, a boss and a friend. The protagonist of this story is a 30 year old man with his life ahead of him; seemingly optimistic about life, love, family and career. A beautiful, kind, loving and immensely talented musician and martial artist who was beginning to find his place in the world. On August 30th, Michael died of a heroin overdose, two months after being released from rehab.

This is not a story of your “run of the mill” addict. True, he had made questionable decisions in his life and worried many people but had apparently not lied to, stolen from, abused or alienated everyone who cared for him, unlike most addicts that I know (and I do know some who fit that bill, even within my own family). Michael had love, hope and family behind him but it just wasn’t enough.

The family may never know exactly what prompted him to start using again but they do understand his neediness for love and acceptance. It all started when his mother literally abandoned him as a baby (due to drugs) and his father went to prison for fifteen years (also drug related), missing his son’s childhood and teenage years. One might say that this kid never had a chance but in truth, he was raised in a loving home by his grandparents and his aunts, with help from his uncle and many cousins.

I didn’t really know Michael, at least not in the traditional sense. He entered my life when he was five years old and I was working my first job out of college with one of his aunts, who was also just out of college. From the very first moment I met him, I loved Michael. Never had I encountered such an ebullient, carefree, magnetic and sweet child. A precocious communicator, Michael’s mind was constantly creating stories and ideas that he just couldn’t wait to tell people! I will never forget riding in a Uhaul truck, with Michael sitting between me and his aunt (the driver) as we moved her and a friend into a new apartment. Michael sang the theme to “Rawhide” with the words, “Moving, moving, moving…” instead of “Rolling, rolling, rolling…” I only knew Michael for about three years before getting married and moving away.Throughout the years, I asked for him whenever I spoke to my friend and had great hope for the future of the bright little boy.

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The memorial service on Saturday allowed me to get reacquainted with Michael and the rest of his family, some of whom I had not seen in 25 years. I saw him as a young man getting ready for the senior prom; on a skiing trip with his girlfriend and at the birth of his daughter. Every one of the images showed a sweet, smiling child, young man or adult. But perhaps the most impactful image I saw of Michael that day was a picture of a five year old boy, standing on his grandparents front porch, wearing a plaid shirt and suspenders with his hands on his hips and a huge smile on his face. This is the Michael I knew and the Michael I will never forget. The Michael I loved.

Through our sorrow and our tears, we told stories of how we knew Michael and how he impacted our lives. Some stories were told in front of the entire congregation, others privately to one or two of the other mourners. What struck me was the immense love in that room; a love that has transcended time and deep sorrow. Loved by almost everyone he met; one of his friends wrote that “maybe in twenty or thirty years we’ll know the purpose of Michael’s death; the  positive things that will happen as a result of this.” As I drove the two hours back to my home Saturday evening, I thought not only about Michael but about every person I have ever loved. And I realized that not counting those who have passed away, all but one are still in my life in some way, even if on the periphery. With only a few exceptions, I love all of them, although that love has changed over time. As I’ve matured, I don’t think of love as a static definition but as a spectrum-- ebbing, flowing, transforming. My life today is the result of every person whom I have met and loved.
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Photo via
Like the others, I will never forget Michael but I am a better person for knowing him, even for just a brief moment.  Please make sure that the Michaels in your life know how much they mean to you and that you love them.