In the pre-Facebook days, Penn had a separate online portal for newly admitted students to gossip about dorms and classes and clubs, and other pre-college chatter. Michael and I were both admitted early decision and we quickly progressed our friendship from Penn portal to AIM to the regular old telephone. We were 17 and it seemed impossible to wait 9 months to become in-real-life friends, so we decided to rendezvous at his house, just about 45 minutes north of mine. I met his lovely parents and then we made our way to the Wendy’s drive-thru and took our cheeseburgers to a nearby park to listen to all our favorite music. Ok, Michael’s favorite music, which became my favorite, too. It was the most ordinary thing for a bunch of high schoolers to do, but it was a memory made extraordinary by virtue of being with Michael.
|Photo by Raymond Colon|
I was shocked when Michael told me before winter break freshman year that he wouldn’t be returning to Penn in the spring: he was joining the Navy. I balked at the idea. You? The Navy? The same guy who fiercely debates the merits of the Oxford comma at 4am? Michael made the case that he didn’t really know what he wanted to do, and couldn’t see the sense in spending all that tuition money figuring it out. Well. That may sound like a well-reasoned response, but Michael had gone to the same kind of parochial high school as I had, so we both knew he was supposed to graduate from an ivy league school with honors and settle into something suitably professional. He was deviating from The Plan. 8 years later, I found myself in the same situation, and I found myself channeling Michael’s courage to carve out a different path. He was one of the first people besides my parents that I told about leaving my job to start the company, because Michael had a way of making you feel like you were destined to make all the big decisions you were making, and he’d just been patiently waiting for you to figure them out.
For the 7 years that Michael served in the Navy, he was mostly based in far-away places. Somehow, we knew our friendship was special, and diligently kept in touch with letters, emails, phone calls, Facebook, and a visit whenever he was on the east coast. He came to speak to my class during my first year teaching in Baltimore, which I think was an enlightening experience for all parties involved.
Getting older and moving around makes staying in touch with old friends harder. There’s an illusion of intimacy since we’re all constantly aware of each other on Facebook. It’s easy enough to say, “We should totally get together the next time I’m in your city!” But Michael really meant it. If we were within 200 miles of each other, we would find a way to see each other.
We said we loved each other a lot. As a society, I think we’re bashful about loving too much. We get wrapped up in the implications and insinuations and we treat each other so casually. Michael did nothing casually and we were unabashed in our mutual expressions of love and affection. Imagine if we were all so unapologetic about loving our friends? Just big, bold, audacious love. If anyone is afraid that too much love would make it any less special or intimate, trust me that Michael’s whole existence was evidence to the contrary.
A strong theme has emerged in the dedications to Michael over the past few days: It didn’t matter if he knew you for 10 minutes or 10 years, he made you feel special. Michael had some sort of super power in that he could immediately pinpoint all of your insecurities, gently make you face them, and just dissolve them, leaving only the beautiful parts. This gift for seeing the beauty in every person he met made him a remarkable photography, and a truly extraordinary human.
“You know when you’ve found it, that’s something I’ve learned, cause you feel it when they take it away.”