Johnny Cash’s gravely and deep baritone voice fill my ears right now. He’s singing about the Grim Reaper taking souls. Which is fitting, the Reaper took a friend of mine today. I’m not happy about it. I’m not pissed off, just saddened down to my soul.
My pal’s name, Mike S.
I remember the first time I met him, we were at church, I was working in the audio visual booth, well, on the cameras actually. I was getting my headset and preparing to head out to my box where my camera was set up. Mike was escorted into the booth by our director. Mike had a big grin on his face.
But it wasn’t his smile that caught my attention at first, no, it was his full head of neatly trimmed, stark white hair. As white as Santa Clause’s. He was about my height and only a few years older than me but I felt an immediate connection to him. When he was introduced around his smile grew bigger and his quiet voice greeted us each as if he’d known us for years. His handshake, firm and confident. When he spoke to you, he looked you directly in your eyes.
We didn’t become instant friends, which was fine with me. For you see, we had that in common. Like me, he never judged a person on first impressions, no, he took his time, observed you and if something was amiss in your world and it showed in your actions, he took the time to figure out what was wrong and see if he could help.
Him and I worked the same shift on the cameras every third Sunday. When our church expanded, him and I stayed on the same shift even though we had an influx of cameramen. Eventually, his family and mine became friends. He had a lovely wife and two beautiful daughters. All of us went out to lunches, and occasionally, dinners. And, on rare occasions, when the Green Bay Packers were playing the Chicago Bears, we’d get together at his house and watch the games.
My daughter was much younger then. Barely seven, I remember her sitting on the floor of their living room and playing with their pet dog while we sat on the couch and ate nachos, tacos and various other football food. Mike and his wife made us feel welcomed and comfortable, even though I rarely feel comfortable in social situations.
Mike was able to break through those barriers.
When our work at the church increased, he was the only other cameraman who stepped up to the plate to work almost every Sunday for two services. Between services, we’d go up to the A/V room, sit on the floor, eat yogurt, granola bars and bananas and talk about work and how things were going with our family.
When he confessed to me the troubles and pains he was having with his wife’s fight with cancer, we prayed, we hugged and we cried. When he expressed frustration with work, or with life in general, I comforted him. Just as he did with me.
When our church started falling apart, he and I were the only two A/V guys left standing. I felt bad for him. I had been promoted to director, he was still on cameras not a few weeks before. When the dust of destruction settled, him and I would meet before church, discuss how we would block the shots. One of our pastors’ had gotten another director to come in and help out. We liked him and his wife, yet we didn’t always agree with what they wanted to do. But we remained.
Then, one Sunday he dropped a bomb on me. His family was leaving the church and going to start attending another. I was heartbroken but I couldn’t stop him. I knew there was nothing I could say to keep him or his family in our flock. I just nodded and wished him and his family well.
When I found out his wife was cancer free… I rejoiced.
When I found out he had cancer… I cursed and prayed.
When I found out his treatments weren’t going well… I cursed more and prayed more.
When I found out he was in the hospital… I cursed so much I got hoarse. Then I prayed.
When he got out of the hospital, I reached out to him. It wasn’t the first time I had done so, but I was hoping to hear from him. I called and left voice messages, I texted and even posted on facebook. He never answered back. Can’t say as I blame him. I know when I’m ill, the last thing I want to do is talk to anyone.
Then, when I found out last week he was back in the hospital, I cried, I prayed and I cursed. I wanted to go see him. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to tell him how much he meant to me. But I didn’t. Instead, I went to see older friends.
Friends who I believe could have waited.
Then, I found out things were going south fast. But I still didn’t go see him. Instead, I headed out to see my older pals once again.
When I found out he was going home for hospice care… I was empty inside. I cried.
When I found out he died… I was frozen.
My friend, a man who had been in my life for barely a decade had expired without me telling him how much he meant to me. To my family and how not a week goes by and I don’t think about him and his family.
I know he left in peace and tranquility. But I am anything but peaceful and tranquil about this.
Another person who actually took time out of his life to get to know me and still liked me for who I was is now gone. I am down one more friend. No, I am down one more very close friend. I don’t have many. Three maybe four left in my life and I’m getting to old to even try and find another.
So I’m going to say it here and now what I should have said at least a week ago:
“Mike, you were a true friend to me. Your friendship meant more to me than I will ever be able to express in words. Your faith was something that I wished I’d had. Your commitment to family was enviable and your service to this country and church was admirable. I love you and I hope that you are in a better place today.”