There’s a pair of Adirondack chairs next door to our house that are empty. It’s funny how you can notice something “not” being somewhere, as opposed to something being there. My dogs for example, notice when Pumpkin, our neighbor’s cat, is in the yard. Karen and I notice that Mike, isn’t in his. It’s springtime now, and the days are warm enough where we should see Mike outside in the sun, doing something. And he’s not.
I’ve been thinking the past few weeks about Mike. The kind of thinking that takes some time for your thoughts to coagulate and solidify. I’ve let those thoughts have their time, and this morning I think they’re ready to see the sunshine, in Mike’s absence.
5 things I learned from Mike.
Number one – love your wife and kids. I never had to talk very long with Mike to understand how profoundly he loved his wife and daughters. He exuded it, like breath. I have this sense that Mike realized the incalculable treasure he had in them. One might start a conversation about the weather but soon find themselves in familiar Lisa, Tara, and Sandy territory. He was proud about this or that, worried for them in one sense or another. The very thought of them was an Iron Man fusion reactor core in his heart that sustained him daily.
Number two – never lose your sense of curiosity and wonder. One look in Mike’s garage and you knew that Mike loved to take things apart, and put them back together. Before we even moved here, the former owners had told me about the various neighbors and stated, “Mike’s always in his driveway, working on something or other”. When Mike tried harnessing the power of the Hydrogen atom in his reclaimed white pickup truck, he didn’t know that his kid-zeal had spilled over. I’d shared what he was doing with my best friend Ron, who in turn started his own hydrolysis experiments in Thomasville. Since Mike went home, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on YouTube watching videos of things other men have made and built. This past week, I spent a night in a tee-pee tent behind Mike’s house warmed by a woodstove made with a popcorn can, a stainless steel roll-up chimney, and some soda cans. I think Mike would have liked to see the smoke coming out of that thing…
Number three…give stuff you love away. I talked about the knife Mike gave me at his memorial service, but the time since then has moved forward with the practical weight of that gift to me. I’ve had many opportunities to take something on my workbench, or in my storage totes, and hand it to someone who was wide eyed and in disbelief at the offering. More, “No, I couldn’t take that”-s than I can count. I realize now in the giving you’re transferring a part of yourself into that other person. It’s a “1+1=3” moment of sorts. There’s grace, and joy, and Christmas all in one. For Mike it was knives. For me, it’s been soda can alcohol stoves and beer can cook pots for camping. Ruthlessly give yourself away and you live beyond yourself and time…
Number four…love walks, and doesn’t just talk. Mike realized, and taught me, that love picks up a hammer and builds a trellis. It picks up a shovel, and digs a trench for a new water spigot. Mike reminded me of the first guy that Kevin Costner picked up with James Earl Jones in “Field of Dreams”. You remember him – the old town doctor that gave up baseball to help treat the people in his small town. Remember what he said about the stores in town, how they knew he would always buy a certain kind of hat for his wife if they put it out in the window – because he knew how much his wife loved those hats? That was Mike. His love was pro-active. It never sat on the bench.
Number five…touch people. Mike was one of the smartest men I knew. But it went beyond that. I know a lot of smart people. Most of them are arrogant self obsessed conceited narcissists, though. Mike taught me a lesson one day about how to interact with people that has stayed with me to this day. Something he learned from his Dad who had a factory a while back. Mike said that the key to his Dad’s success, and subsequently his own in Engineering and Management, came down to one thing. He said his Dad would walk around the factory every day, and take the time to come alongside each worker and touch them on the back or shoulder, and ask them how they were doing. Mike was his father’s son. He made time for you. I never felt rushed around him, as though there was something more important waiting for him in the next room that he had to attend to. To a fault, he’d stand and talk, or sit, and talk, and make time to ask how you were and express genuine curiosity towards your answer. When you were in Mike’s orbit, he came into yours and let time decide when the two should break away, naturally. On a back porch, or in a hospital room.
I’d like to think of myself as one of Mike’s Disciples. And I can feel him softly suggesting to “go and do likewise”. Confessedly, I’ve stumbled with a few of these, but I suspect he did also. Like all great men though, with time and age comes a deep sage wisdom that speaks louder in silence than with words.
Lately, I see that empty Adirondack chair, and sense the weight of my own mortality. I look inside my own garage and wonder what my children and wife and friends will remember most about me. I guess I hope that someday, someone will say they learned the kinds of things from me that I learned from Mike.
And that’s all I have to say about that.