There’s a penny that sat for months just inside my neighbor Kelly’s front door. I don’t think it was there before her son Michael died. I wondered many times when I would visit if it was his but I never asked. It screamed at me from the foyer table “Pick me up!” but I knew better. It wasn’t my penny to take. When I told Kelly I liked her penny she gave me one of her sweet smiles and said, “Me too.” She knew I understood it held some significance for her but beyond that I never sensed I should ask why.
We’ve had so much more to talk about anyway but I was always thankful it was there to put a smile on her face. At times when I would leave to come home feeling heartbroken for her I was glad to see it just to encourage me. Pennies make me smile too and my friend’s grief is so deep and unimaginable it’s sometimes hard to muster one. How do you comfort someone you love when you can barely fathom their loss? Parents aren’t supposed to lose their children to death. It’s not the natural order of things. Everyone knows this and after a year of sitting with Kelly this is still all I know. It’s not right.
I’ve tried several times over the course of the year to step back and disassociate from it. This is almost impossible to do because I miss Mike too. Luke and Chase miss him. We all want him back. I’ll drive up the street and pull into the driveway wanting him to sneak right up behind me like he always did to ask if Luke is home. I’d say, “Yes, go on in you know where to find him.” The two were such candy junkies they knew I had to be home before they could hang out. Mike would watch from his bedroom window for me to get home so he could come over. I trusted those boys to stay out of trouble but not the pantry. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have ignored their respective restrictive diets and just let them indulge.
Life is too quiet on our street now. Even with two new pint sized neighbors the action doesn’t come close to Mike and Luke’s epic street tennis battles. If Mike were alive his Schnauzer’s and ours would be yapping their brains out while the boys battled it out. The sun used to set on them playing. Win, lose, or draw they always parted friends. They were two gentlemen in the world of sports with Luke the tennis pro and Mike the golf pro. Each one patiently helping the other improve.
This was the great treasure of their friendship. They believed in each other and always wanted the best for one another. Did they ever get snarky with each other? Sure, but never to the point they wouldn’t go to battle on the other’s behalf. As the saying goes they always had the other’s back and this is the thought that I cling to when the rest don’t make sense. Michael’s gone but he’s still got Luke’s back. He’s not physically present but the memory of his presence is with us in the way he fought the good fight. He never quit and he never stopped believing in God’s love for him. He crossed the threshold of heaven with the spirit of a warrior.
Because of this when Luke’s sometimes fragile countenance changes and he’s wrestling with self-doubt all you have to say is, “Be Mike strong buddy – be Mike strong.” Like a shot to the heart he comes too and whatever force was pulling him backward is overcome by the memory of his friend’s fighting spirit. Mike has become Luke’s modern day giant of faith cheering him on from his post in heaven. Where some of us are helped by stories from Scripture he is helped by the story of Mike’s life – one that was told with great courage.
While I may never know the story behind Kelly’s special penny I do know the story of her treasured son’s life. It was bright and shiny and adds value to our lives to this day. If I knew enough about angels and how they get their wings I would have say Michael has a very cool set of them. I imagine he uses them to swoop into our lives, just like he did our garage, to see if we’re ready to move past whatever troubles us or as he would say to “get busy living”. To this our response in his honor should be we are. We are MIKE STRONG!