It is three weeks this past Shabbat that Michael is gone from our presence. I am overwhelmed by the number of lives he touched, the memories that people have of him and the beautiful tributes that have been posted or mailed to me.
We both always knew the outcome of Michael's illness. Yet he never gave up or gave in except at the end when he knew he had lost the fight. It was only about duration. This was one of the few times that he was not the "special" one who would excel and get more time.
Many of you knew Michael as a teacher, colleague and friend. I knew and loved the more personal side of him. For almost forty years (come June), we had a continuous conversation about ongoing future plans, ND programs, vacation trips, shared books and movies, close friends, our children, and wines and food we chose. Most importantly it was about our many adventures and dreams together.
He was a perfect dinner and movie partner, travel guide, literary resource and wine expert. One of my complaints about him was that he was mathematically challenged. Somehow he never got numbers but his many other talents made up for it. He was far from perfect, but he was exceptional.
Michael had such a gentle side to him yet he could be outraged when he felt an injustice being done or if the Pope made a statement that he didn't agree with. He could be very funny and quite serious, laugh or cry when moved, be a silly romantic or get passionate about an idea or sentimental about a friend and also be very cynical. (Usually not at the same time.)
He was an incurable bookaholic, loved fountain pens, films and medieval art. During our travels he collected boxes, old prints and maps. Others gave him chicken kitsch, a joke from early HUC days. Ever a pack rat, his study is filled with photos and memorabilia from people he loved having near him. He never threw anything out if he thought it might have "historical" value.
Michael had many mentors along the way and he chose well. On his computer was a photo of Fr. Boyle watching over him, and on his shoulder, Arnie Band's presence stood "guard." His best friend David Ellenson taught him how to be generous and gracious. His students and children taught him patience and how to listen.
Somehow Michael got people and he always "got me." That is a gift that is hard to find and one I will miss the most. Michael had a way of gently reminding me to turn off the "tapes," encouraging me to listen to my own voice and always making me feel a worthy partner. I think he also did that for his students. He always said that his legacy would be with them and not in the many more books he wished he had written.
Last May when we were in Israel we passed a jewelry store window that I had admired on several trips. Michael wanted me to try on a necklace I saw. Since it was not a special occasion. I thought our fortieth would be a better time. It was so out of character for him to persist that I was caught a bit off balance by it all.
We went in and after I tried on the necklace he said that he wanted me to have it. Despite the fact I loved it, being ever the practical one, I protested it was too extravagant. Michael was adamant about it. This was not like him at all, I thought.
After leaving the store box in hand, he seemed so pleased that he had bought it for me. Following that trip, soon after coming home he was diagnosed with cancer. I forgot about having put the necklace away in my drawer. Only while packing to go to his funeral did I accidently find it. It was the first of many bittersweet encounters I have had since then.
Although he will never get to see me wear it, I wonder if somehow he had a premonition or was it just a coincidence in timing. The sadness of his absence will stay with me forever, but the memory of that day in Jerusalem will as well.
Michael's presence and absence is felt constantly in our house; in his study and library and in the many memories you have shared. For that gift my family is most grateful. It is the deep loss of not having him along to continue our journey together that is the most difficult to accept. Sharing my life with such a unique man was indeed a privilege and most often much fun. Our time together was all too short and now much too quiet. I so miss the conversation.
In Loving Memory