Some adventures in life are not fun, they are just life in all it’s messiness and unpredictability. I have to search within my self to find meaning; sometimes the introspection process is the only important result of the search for meaning.
I lost a dear friend this past month. Michael Robinson died of a heart attack on July 1, 2016 in France. He was my best friend for most of my adult life; He knew me better than anyone alive; he shared my ups and downs, my successes and failures. He was present through most of my major life events as I evolved from a twenty-something to a retiree.
He had a profound effect on my life and I shall miss him dearly.
It took me some time to climb out of my isolation and recognize that I am one of those people; I too am grieving, I too am mourning and I too have a hole in my heart and my life that will never be filled.
I was not ready for this; I’m 67 going on 45. We are too young to die and we are too young to start mourning the death of our friends, much less our best friends.
I am trying to find a positive way to accept his death, honor his memory, offer comfort to his wife, children and friends and move forward.
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” – Epictetus
It isn’t a new idea, but it is one I go back to when I am unsettled. I cannot bring back my friend Michael but I can choose how I deal with that fact. I can also try to choose to deal with his death in a way that honors his values and the way he lived his life; in that way, I am keeping him alive within me.
I’m not deeply spiritual, nor am I philosophical; it is just me coming to grips with another of life’s surprises, the ones that makes life so rich and magical.
I am a big believer in “tender mercies” – small kindnesses that we offer to each other. Behind each tender mercy is thoughtfulness, generosity, kindness, acceptance and support. When I am traveling in a foreign land and feeling particularly vulnerable and attuned to every nuance of the attitudes of the people around me, I am especially aware of the value of tender mercies. When a complete stranger stops and offers directions, I am grateful beyond measure; that is a tender mercy. They come without strings.
They are small, easily missed but if we are vigilant, we see them everywhere. When we receive them we are grateful, when we give them we are gracious. It takes mindfulness, sensitivity, awareness and an ability to look outside ourselves to the needs of others.
Michael was a master at gifting tender mercies; a small chat, a coffee with someone who needed help, a kind word, a smile, a laugh; the stories at the celebration of his life were encyclopedic.
I have also become acquainted with another forceful demonstration of the incredible power of kindness and the deep well of goodness in people. Mister Rogers called it “Look for the Helpers”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LGHtc_D328
There are helpers everywhere. The helpers we notice most often are obvious; police, fire, medical services but, with a little generosity of spirit, we can expand the definition to anyone who make our lives better.
Helpers are there in times of crisis, their acts of kindness come at a telling time.
Michael was a helper; in several trying times in my life he was there when I needed him. They were turning points and he was a critical factor in turning me in the right direction.
Michael’s passing brought out an abundance of helpers. The list is long, the kindnesses abundant and the generosity of spirit pervasive. Mary Louise somehow found the strength and grace to be a helper to many who were hurting even as she went through her own grief.
I was in Ottawa when I heard the news of Michael’s death, I was with Blair, my son. Blair became the most important helper in my life for the next two weeks. He was the best wingman ever; he was attentive, kind, thoughtful, mindful of my distractedness, generous in helping me navigate through some difficult foggy moments and always supportive. He helped me deal with the initial shock, supported me through my first conversations with Mary Louise and Michael’s children and positively participate in the celebration of Michael’s life. He helped me – by his example – be a helper to those who were in need. I will be forever grateful for his help and all the tender mercies he bestowed on me and those around me.
Days after the celebration of Michael’s life, Blair put me on a plane for Europe, where Kristen took over. For the next two weeks, she hiked me around Switzerland; hard physical work that left me hungry and exhausted. I ate well, slept well and enjoyed the warm embrace of Kristen and Chris – my helpers. I was busy, the distractions helped me come to grips with Michael’s passing.
I was able to talk about him with an intimacy that I could have only conducted with those I totally trust. I will be forever grateful for that month of mindful caring in the hands of my helpers – Blair, Kristen and Chris.
Life doesn’t fit into neat stories but, a month after Michael’s death, I have a few thoughts on how I can honor his memory, how I can respond to this event in ways that matter.
Michael lived a set of values that were simple but not necessarily easy to emulate. He didn’t believe in win-lose (except in Scrabble), he was generous of spirit and accepting of all our foibles. Michael was loved by friends, well liked by a large circle of acquaintances, ever gregarious, ever looking outside himself.
He understood the value of, and was a master at the quiet gift of, tender mercies. I can honor his memory by accentuating and acknowledging the tender mercies in my life – both the generosity inherent in the giving of them and the gracious acknowledgement of their value in receiving them.
I’m going to take Mister Rogers advice, follow Michael’s examples and look for the helpers, even aspire to be a helper. I expect I will find them everywhere, in places and situations that will surprise me. In this troubled world where any small kindness that holds us together as a civil society should be celebrated, I will be more supportive of the helpers.
Finally, because this evolving process of filling the hole in my life and my heart is ongoing, I will try to embrace the thoughtful words of doctor Seuss:
I will be forever grateful for the privilege of knowing Michael for those many years and having him as my friend. He left me many reasons to smile. He was a true helper and a generous giver of tender mercies.