So, Mike had breakfast yesterday morning was his friend Richard. Mike has been worried about his friend Mike T. for a long time and learned yesterday that Mike T. had passed away about three weeks ago. Mike’s calls to him the past few weeks had gone directly to voicemail which had a message that the mailbox was full. Since Mike didn’t know where Mike T. lived exactly he was pretty well stuck. Mike T. had over 25 years sober when he died. But over the past couple of years he appeared to be losing his mind. He made bad decision after bad decision, driving his wife away from him and then most of his friends. He was very sick but would check himself out of the hospital over and over as he would get angry with the doctors and find fault with their treatment plans. Mike said it was like looking at a train wreck in slow motion. Mike doesn’t have the details but he’s afraid that Mike T. died alone. This morning Mike’s friends came over for their Sunday morning get together. Mike T. used to be part of this group until about two years ago when he first left Atlanta. They talked about Mike T. and they all agreed that every one of them has the capability of driving people away from them and dying alone. I hope that never happens. I think success in life depends upon the characteristics of honesty, personal integrity, having good friends, and reliance on a higher power. Mike remembers his last conversation with Mike T. His last words to Mike T., after he failed to talk some sense into him, were “I love you Michael.” Mike T. replied to Mike, “I love you too, Michael.” Rest in peace, Mike T.
So, Mike has had a miserable cold which started about 10 or 11 days ago. He was surrounded by Kleenex and the hand sanitizer for several days and was doping himself up with various over-the-counter remedies. His voice nearly disappeared into the depths. Now Judy has the cold. It’s hope she doesn’t get as sick as he did. And oh, did I mention that Mike went to work every day? I hope he kept his hands to himself and didn’t transmit his disease to his patients. I’m pretty sure doctors are supposed to help you get better, not the other way around. It’s true though that the patients depend upon him to be there to check on their progress and keep their various medications going.
Last night Mike went out to his rabbi’s retirement gala celebration. Judy was too sick to go. Mike says he’s not contagious anymore, and he’s probably right. When Mike moved to Atlanta in 1984 with his then wife, Gena and with Michelle who was seven years old at the time, they decided to look for a temple to join. Mike guessed that a reform Temple might be more accepting of his interdenominational and interracial family than a more traditional synagogue. He still doesn’t know if that’s true or not. Probably in some cases yes and in some cases no. Anyway, he found an excited and exciting group of families that had joined a new Temple that was formed in 1981 by Rabbi Harvey Winokur. Alan A. was also instrumental in the foundational meeting which took place in a Chinese restaurant. Mike and his family felt very much at home and accepted in their new spiritual community, Temple Kehillat Chaim. Kehillat Chaim means “community of life.” Over the years the temple members referred to themselves as either TKC or as the Kehillah. TKC was an important vehicle for Michelle forming her own identity as a mixed-race child of a Jewish father and a Baptist mother. Her Temple youth group was the place where she found the most acceptance and sense of belonging through her elementary and high school years. Through the years she has firmed up the rest of her identity and self acceptance as a woman of color, but this was a critical piece for her at the time. When she was to have her bat mitzvah Mike asked her if she would like to share her bat mitzvah with her grandmother, Mike’s mother, Bernice. Bernice had always had a deep love for the Jewish religion and Jewish people, but when she was growing up there was no such thing as a bat mitzvah. Michelle welcomed the idea, fully supported by Rabbi Harvey,and so they had a joint bat mitzvah celebration at TKC in 1990, I think. By this time Gena had been diagnosed with breast cancer and subsequently had a recurrence in 1991. Although she continued to attend religious services with Mike and Michelle at TKC, she also found a Baptist Church to reestablish herself in the religion most familiar to her. One can only imagine what was going through her mind having cancer and having not fully raised Michelle to adulthood. Mike remembers when she counseled with Pastor Johnson at Zion Baptist Church a few times. I think he was able to be comforting for Gena. Unfortunately, late in 1991 Pastor Johnson passed away. The following April Gena passed away after spending a month in intensive care. During that period Rabbi Harvey was immensely supportive of the family, frequently coming to the hospital and praying with them. He was there when she died. Likewise, Pastor Larry from Zion was extremely attentive and supportive and brought a lot of prayers from Zion. He and Mike have remained friends to this day. In fact, Mike gave a talk at his church recently (see my blogpost, “Not So Loud, Just about Right” dated March 25.) Gena’s funeral was at Zion, and Rabbi Harvey and Pastor Larry co-officiated. Mike remembers telling Michelle how important it is to be involved with a synagogue or a church family. It made a great deal of difference to him not to have to do this alone.
Three years later Rabbi Harvey blessed Mike and Judy’s wedding. The TKC family welcomed her lovingly. So, Rabbi Harvey has been deeply involved in the major lifecycle events in Mike’s life over the past 34 years. Mike was asked to say a few words last night at the celebration. He hopes he conveyed how much love and appreciation that he has for Rabbi Harvey and for the entire TKC family for the spiritual home that they have provided for him and his family over the last many years. Mike had the honor of being involved on the search committee to find a new Rabbi. Rabbi Holtz will be starting in July and Mike and the entire TKC family are excited to welcome him and his family into their community. We hope for a good transition and a lot of good new energy. Mike and Rabbi Harvey have talked about doing some projects together having to do with religion, spirituality, and addiction recovery. I hope they do it.
Mike didn’t stay to the bitter end last night. I think the cold had worn on him as well as three full hours of the event, the noise, and visiting. He’s glad that he left early because he had an experience on the way home which he was excited to tell Judy and Michelle about when he got home. As he turned onto his street about 9:30 he saw by the side of the road about 30 feet ahead of him what looked like a cat sitting. He stopped and realized that it was a large bird facing away from him, peering intently at something. As he sat there the bird turned and faced him with this creepy barn owl face. Mike sat and watched it for possibly two minutes as it occasionally would turn and stare at Mike and then get back to its quarry. Then it took it two little hops, grabbed its furry little victim, pecked at it, and silently flew off. The cycle of life continues. People come and go; institutions come and go; we live, love, have our adventures, and move on. But I like to think there’s always something new and exciting down the next road. I’m sure there is. I hope you think so too. Well that’s all the news from Happy Meadows for now. May all your colds be little ones. Talk to you soon.