If you’re only going to live once…

I miss him.

I can’t even say I knew him well, but I knew him well enough to know that he had more wisdom than anyone else I’ve ever met.

I feel like I ought to change his name, but it is so hard because he is as close to my heroes of fiction as anyone could ever be.  Let’s just call him Mike.  Those of you who knew him know who I am talking about.  Those of you who don’t, good luck figuring out the “Mike” I am talking about.

So here’s the story of Mike, as best as I can remember it…

One of my greatest friends, even to this day, introduced me to a kid.  He was a year or two older than us and I was warned that he was sick, so he had good days and bad days.  Nothing struck me as special.  Mike was just some guy.  I had only met him that once at a New Years(Birthday?) party.

It was a few years later that I found myself involved in “Journalism” in high school that I really got to meet Mike.  He would come in wearing his crazy hats.  One of the things he was responsible for was taking roll.  He would walk around from computer to computer and if you weren’t completely absorbed in what you were doing, he would greet you.  I didn’t say he’d say good morning.  I said he’d greet you.

This distinction is important.  He would look at you.  He would see you.  He would say good morning.  If you looked like you were having a bad day, he’d try his best to do something about it.  Every now and then, when I am having a bad morning, I miss him.  One of the greatest lessons he taught me was that “If you’re having a bad day and it’s only an hour old, it’s just going to get worse and harder to turn around, so fix it now or go home.”  I can’t recall him ever saying it just that way, but it was a valuable lesson.  It wasn’t until a few years later that I sat down and thought about what it took for him to learn that lesson.

In everything he did, he could find a smile.  In everything you did, he could and would help you find one too.  He was the most generous person I’ve ever met, even though I don’t know if he ever gave a penny to anyone.  What mike gave everyone was worth so much more than money.  What Mike gave me may not be the most valuable thing I’ve ever received, but nothing else has ever made me feel more guilty than forgetting it, which I still do from time to time.

Here’s the thing, though, Mike was a sick kid.  He spent many days in the hospital.  He had good days and bad days.  And on those bad days that he could still make it to school, even when they were only an hour old, he would help you turn yours around.  And it never mattered if it was a bad day for him.  Some people wear a smile as a shield when they are in pain and try to put on a good show so that others won’t ask them what’s wrong.  Some people use jokes as a shield to keep the attention off of them.  Mike, carried a smile like a sword and fought off your problems.  He threw jokes like daggers at everything that tried to get in your way.

I can only remember him letting the pain through once.  We went to visit him in the hospital on an especially bad day.  And he smiled for every second of it that he could.  I will never know what was in that IV bag, but every 4th drip gave him enough strength or perhaps reprieve from pain to let that smile shine through.  We didn’t spend too long with him, but I remember that visiting hours didn’t apply, since Mike was a frequent flyer.  And as sad as it was to see him that way, every moment, even like that, was a gift.  There is a strength that no one will glimpse often and many will never see, but I saw it.

Mike died a few years later.  I can say with full confidence that he wasn’t surprised by it.  I know he fought to stay on this earth as long as he could and he spent every moment here like it may be his last.  He didn’t invite death.  He didn’t fear death.  He wasn’t reckless.  He wasn’t absolutely cautious.  He was just a sick kid.  He was a few years older than me and many times wiser than I am even now, but he was a kid.  He wanted to live forever.  He knew he couldn’t.  He had more dreams than he’d ever get to fulfill, but who didn’t?  The difference is that he never let the fact that he may never finish stop him and he never gave up and thought he’d get a second chance.

You only live once.  If you ever want to figure out how to do it right, get to know a sick kid.

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