A rabbi friend mourns not just his death but his life,
I would overcome my feelings of pity with a spirit of defiance. No, I will not cry. He hadn’t earned it.But then the news came that he had died. And I was devastated. Especially when I saw my children’s tears. Michael was accused of pedophilia. But my children and his children were playmates. Yes, I made sure to supervise. But the children did not see him as a monster. Michael brought cartoon videos for his kids and my kids to watch. We sat in my living room on Thanksgiving laughing and joking. And the children missed him.
Once, when my son Mendy was eight years old he accompanied Michael and me to a kosher restaurant in Manhattan. Mendy tried to order. The waiter focused on the adults. Mendy felt ignored. He kept on repeating his order. Michael heard him. He interrupted the waiter. ‘Excuse me, but this child is trying to order. Can you please listen to him?’ It was not something you’d expect from a superstar. They were supposed to be utterly self-absorbed, right?
And then there was the incident with my children fighting with the children of another family on the school bus. Michael heard about it. My eldest daughter felt bullied. Michael sprang into action. Enter the peacemaker. He called me, and over several days he planned a peace parley in earnest. Everything down to the name tags of the children. No detail was too miniscule. Kids should not fight. Adults were the corrupt ones. He wanted to see harmony among kids. And while he put hours into planning the summit (which never went ahead because the other family pulled out) he was supposed to be working on his album, Invincible. No matter. It would wait. Ending altercations between school children took precedence.
He used to watch me tell my children I loved them. He did not approve. ‘Shmuley, when you tell your children you luuuvve them, you have to look in their eyes. They have to know that you mean it. You have to focus only on them. You can’t tell them and look somewhere else.’ And ever since then, I peer in their eyes.
After we had given our lecture at Oxford together, I was waiting at Heathrow to travel back to the US. Michael was staying on in London. He called me on my cell phone. ‘Shmuuullleeey. Did I tell you I love you?’ ‘Yes Michael, you’ve told me many times.’ ‘But I mean it. I love you.’ ‘I love you too, Michael. You’re a dear friend.’ I hung up. I thought he was too sentimental. But I left the conversation with red eyes. How did he find it so easy to tell people he loved them?