Some moments in time are singed into your memory banks forever. I woke up the morning of August 29, 2011 and I saw an e-mail with the title “Mike Kenwood” and all it said in the body was “holy crap”. This was from a close college friend of mine who still lives in the Boston area and also knew Mike (but not as well as me, but knew how close I was with him). I was groggy, so the gravity didn’t quite hit me of the “holy crap” part. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not a morning person – let alone on a Monday – no matter what time zone I’m in, but this day I did happen to be up before 9AM. I responded to him shortly after getting the mail and asked what happened and well, I’ve talked about the rest of the story – mostly here and here. If you want the condensed version and don’t want to read the links, my friend Mike Kenwood passed away a year ago today – August 28, 2011. A short time after that e-mail, I called his wife but also got a call from his wife’s sister shortly after that to tell me. She didn’t know that I knew already and apologized for not calling sooner, but clearly between the hurricane and the suddenness of it all (and as I found out later, how they got to NJ in the middle of a hurricane), they didn’t call me the night before when it happened. It’s not like they weren’t all trying to deal with a lot of stuff or anything …
A lot has happened in a year. I arguably had the worst fall ever (anyone surprised?), ran to Japan to clear my head in December, and then things have largely been on the upswing ever since which I am supremely thankful for. I’ve had a ton of wonderful opportunities present themselves, not the least of which is going to Australia in November to deliver two training classes. But don’t think for one minute that Mike doesn’t creep into my thoughts frequently or sometimes I wish that good or bad times, there are times I still want to reach out and pick up the phone (yes, use the phone as a phone … remember that?) to talk to him or send him an e-mail to share a laugh or get his opinion. Those are the toughest moments, but it gets easier as time goes on. Notice I didn’t say better, just easier.
Mike’s also had a helluva year. He was always a mensch, and he was posthumously recognized for his actions. (As an aside, why is it we don’t often recognize what people do when they’re alive? Just saying …). Here’s a list (and I’m sure I’ve missed some stuff):
- He was honored at the National EMS Memorial Service
- He received the Jefferson Award
- A bench in his name in Princeton which will be dedicated on the anniversary of his death
- A tribute concert this September (Sunday the 23rd at Princeton School Performing Arts Center) (which I strongly suggest you go to if you’re in the area; it’s being put on by Broadway Sings – the proceeds go to good causes)
Back in July, I went down to New Jersey for the unveiling of the headstone (here’s the Orthodox take on it if you’re curious what Jews do). It was a small ceremony – mainly family with a few non-family folks. Was it sad? Absolutely. Only a year before we were shoveling dirt on his coffin, and here we were placing small stones on his headstone with the grass neatly cut and cared for. The person officiating was the cantor from Beth and Michael’s synagogue. He did a wonderful job, and the thing is – as sad as it was, it became a celebration of Mike’s life. Moments were shared, some laughs (through the tears, of course) were had by all. It was very fitting.
Mike and I really had a lot of laughs; in keeping with the spirit of celebrating, not mourning, I recently looked at his Facebook page, and this was one of his last posts: “Just caught my 5th squirrel in the rabbit trap. It would be so bad if the rabbit wasn’t sitting next to it laughing.” Still makes me smile, because I can hear him saying that, and is a very typical quip from Mike. I miss that.
We also shared a love for Batman (and comic book stuff in general, but mainly Batman), so naturally he came to mind with the opening of The Dark Knight Rises. I would have loved to hear his take on it. I’m sure, like me, he would have seen it in IMAX (real, not fake). He and I did stuff like that together. I remember seeing one of the Spider Man flicks with him (Spider Man 2) as well as the Lion King (in IMAX at the Navy Pier) while he lived in Chicago. I think he also would have loved the Avengers movie.
Mike was about living and embracing life as I’ve talked about. He may have lived a little vicariously through me since I traveled all over the world (we once joked a little about me being a human Where’s Waldo?), but there was never any jealousy and he had as rich a life as anyone I know. He was happy, and good at so many things. I don’t think he was ever happier or more proud once he became a father. He loved every minute of being a Dad. They had just recently got done remodeling their kitchen (Mike liked to cook). He lived more in just under 40 years than some people do in a lifetime. What more could you ask for? (And yes, it’s still hard using past tense in relation to talking about him.)
I’m thankful for all the time I got to spend with him over the years, even if as we got older – as these things happen – you don’t get to see people as often as you used to (or liked) and had separate lives. I’m especially grateful Mike made the time to come down to see a Phillies game with me (and my Dad) at Citizens Bank Park in 2010. It was one of the last times he and I got to hang out. Again, some memories are written with indelible ink.
Recently I was watching the Live From Daryl’s House episode (#30), which was a tribute to T-Bone Wolk who had passed away shortly before that episode was recorded. I’ve always loved T-Bone because he was a fantastic bass player. The guys who honor him in this episode were his friends and bandmates. I love how they went to his family’s house, reminisce, and at the end, they have little individual tributes. What Daryl said at the end is really true: life won’t ever be the same, but it does go on somehow. At 1:38 in the last segment, Daryl says, “He’s an irreplaceable person.” So was Mike.