He was just one of those people whose very presence made the room seem brighter. He was a son, a brother, a father, a grandfather, a Major, and a friend. But to me he was just Michael, just my friend Michael and I loved him. In reality he was two generations older than me, a friend connected to our family, but when I was around him he was my age and my best friend. Even though his appearance said otherwise, in his heart he was the biggest kid I had ever met. He was my Peter Pan, that magical child who just would not grow up, and indeed he did seem magical. He always gave everything to everyone and never asked for anything back. His talents could extend for miles, and the pleasures and smiles that he brought to people’s lives could last till eternity. But like all good things, his life had to end. When he was about ten years old, he was diagnosed with smallpox. By some grace he was cured and lived a full life. He got married, worked in the Air Force, and had two sons. In 1997 he was diagnosed with a cancerous cell of his tongue. He was in terrible pain and lost his speech for a while, but a miracle saved him. His treatment was successful. Except for slightly slurred speech, he was normal again, but his normality only lasted for a short time. In 2006 he was diagnosed with cancer again. This time he had a tumor in his cheek. He fought for two years against the pain and gritted his teeth through the weakness, but it overtook him. This year he was hospitalized more than he was at home. I went to visit him in July in the hospital, and I knew that it was near the end. He looked so small in that bed, so weak. The tumor had spread to his neck and almost completely covered the right side of his face. His state was such that people were afraid to approach him. I could see that it hurt him that they were afraid. I wanted to shout “What’s wrong with you! He is and always will be that great person that put that huge smile on your face. Why are you afraid of him now?” I walked straight up to his bed and gave him a huge hug and he smiled. Through the pain and the misery he smiled. I was not afraid. How could I be afraid of Peter Pan? That was the last time I saw him smiling. Exactly two weeks ago today he passed away in his sleep. No more pain, no more misery, no more magic.
I believe that death is not the end, but a new beginning. For the people who impact our lives like Michael did to mine, their stories will be told, and a piece of them will live in each and every one of us until we get our turn to have our own stories passed on. It always seemed the greatest unfairness that the people who least deserved to die lost their lives early, but life was never supposed to be fair. We just have to learn to deal with what we have and move on. Death is just a new life waiting to happen. Remember the great, learn from the misguided, and live for those whose lives made a difference. In the words of Robert Frost, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” This I believe.