Nagging, anxious chatter in my head made it impossible to sit in the house over the holiday weekend. My team was at work, so I should be too. Deadlines. Notes. Doubts. Legos. Mama, will you play with me? Mama, will you play with me? Mama will you play with me? There's a friend in a hospital bed on the Front Range.
This is what shoes are for, so out I go and the air up there is like a Xanax. It unclenches you. For some reason my eyes and ears work better up there than they do in the city. Every bird in the valley sings in its own language, pay attention. It is a relief to do this, to notice what is here right now. Sprays of glacier lilies spring up in the marshy fields fed by the snow melt, a daytime constellation of yellow stars. In a grove of a zillion juvenile aspen trees I find an ant marching through a forest of tiny orange mushrooms on a downed log.
The mountains don't know it's the First Official Weekend of Summer. Here it is only now spring, and the valleys are the tenderest green. Later the sun will bake and harden all of this and the greens will deepen and the lilies will give way to heartier Indian paintbrush but now the colors are like an ache in me, because I know how short-lived this season is. Does the glacier lily think it will live forever?
The news came in fragments and Facebook posts. Hey man, you might want to Clorox down my edit bay. Doctor says I'm out for a few days. Pneumonia. Collapsed lung. Coma. Antibiotics. He'll wake up any time now, he's 43 and healthy, after all. And we are invincible.
(Insert snarky Facebook post here. He'll laugh when he wakes up.)
Back in the office us old-timers started to hug, worried. We grew up together, professionally. We are jarred and confused and scared for his family. And for ourselves.
I am a talented illusionist. I have a trick up my sleeve that involves creating a life that feels solid. Inevitable. Constant. I fall for it every time. We all do this, right? It's a sleight of mind that makes it possible to move through our days with a sense of meaning and purpose. We are durable and so we build things like friendships, families, television shows, careers, and homes.
Is this the delusion of the naive? I can't be the only one shocked when, as substantial as this life feels, it is revealed to be a tissue-thin veil disguising one real thing: we are fragile beings. We only get a short season.
Spoiler alert: He doesn't wake up.
Yesterday the news came. That's a wrap. And with that dark humor it's confirmed once again that he chose the right woman all those years ago. It's something he would have said.
This sensation of losing Mike is familiar. It is the feeling of standing on a high place, looking down. Your logical mind believes you're safe. There is a solid bridge with hand rails, after all. But your stomach nervously knots up anyway, waiting for the unexpected lurch that throws you. This is why we need the veil, I guess. To settle the stomach. To make it possible to focus enough to use your eyes and ears and hands and build something.
Mike, I will remember you for the long, hard hours we put in together trying to build better stories. I will remember your humor, your pride in your family and your big dreams. Your determination to take risks to grow stands in my mind as a pointed challenge. You were robbed, and so were we.
May we all find peace.