Friday, April 20, 2012


When you’re eighty-two years old, sometimes you get sad.

Mortality weighs heavy at this age, and all the sunshine, health and happiness that make each day a boundless blessing carry the ominous curse that Aristotle wrote about.

It ain’t gonna last forever.

This was one of those days. I forgot to sign up for the usual Friday golf game. Email is full of bad news. Republicans and Democrats at each other’s throats. Weight’s up. Gotta count calories. But why bother?

Splashing through my daily ten laps in the pool, tallying a decade of Aves for so many suffering friends, I thought about a long time pal battling a relapse of cancer.

Mike worked on my political campaigns in the 50’s and 60’s. He was my law clerk in the Supreme Court and my Chief of Staff when I was Chief Justice of Michigan.

A little over ten years ago, he was felled by leukemia. Literally collapsed on an airport floor. Then came months in the hospital. Chemotherapy and more chemotherapy. A bone marrow transplant. Fortunately, his brother was a match.

The hair went, of course. And weight. And strength.

But Mike is a fighter. Indeed, a happy warrior, whose philosophical outlook, wit and ebullient good humor never waned.

His immune system was compromised. For a long time, he traveled with a face mask at the ready.

And then, slowly, inch by inch, he got better.

I remember playing golf with him one day when he announced that it was his sixth birthday. Turned out to be the sixth anniversary of his bone marrow transplant.

New blood. New life.

If these last few years have been a bonus for Mike, they have been a special blessing for Polly and me. He has been my partner in the annual member-guest golf tournament at Birchwood Farms, and Margie comes along for the fun.

The laughter is incessant. The love is palpable. The golf is mediocre.

I called him a week or so ago. He was back in the hospital. Having completed a regimen of chemo every twelve hours for a week, he was released, then promptly readmitted when he contracted a form of shingles in his gums.

Doin’ fine, he says. Walks a couple miles a day up and down the halls. Hates the food. Suggested that, at the next hospital staff meeting, nobody talks. They just sit there and eat the damn food.

So I called him again today. Told Margie I was having an old man’s day and needed to tap into his inexhaustible reserve of good cheer. She said he was sleeping, and, of course, shouldn’t be awakened.

Twenty minutes later, my phone rings. It’s Mike.

“I hear you need cheering up,” he says. Right. I’m the one who needs cheering up. Am I a schmuck or what?

We talk. We laugh. His numbers are up and he hopes the docs will let him go to the office for an hour or so next week.

Then he tells me about the butterflies.

Seems that every day when he gets home from the office, he picks up the mail, pours a glass of wine and sits on the back deck opening envelopes, sorting out, catching up. The five o’clock ritual.

And every day he is visited by two Monarch butterflies.

He talks to them. One perches on the railing. The other parks on his shoulder.

Margie went out the other day at five o’clock and spread Mike’s towel on the table. The butterflies showed up. One on the railing. One on the towel. He says Margie took a picture.

I want to see that picture. I never know when to believe him.

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