It was 9:05pm. I had just turned my phone back on after a return flight to Baltimore and noticed I had several missed notifications while I was mid-flight. I scrolled through the notifications and saw I had a missed text from my mom, sent at 8:34pm, that said “Can you talk?” I responded and told her “Just landed. Give me 10.” No later than my message said “delivered,” my mama called me and told me that my grandfather had passed away.
To say this was a shock would be an understatement. Mr. Michael, as his grandchildren affectionately called him, was one of the strongest and smartest people I knew. Over the last five years, he had battled cancer on two separate occasions yet always came out on top. During Spring 2018, he engaged in his third bout with cancer and fought hard for as long as he could. But on Thursday, January 10th, God brought Mr. Michael to heaven to spend the rest of eternity with Him.
The last week has been emotionally taxing to say the least. I am fully aware that two of the only promises in life are birth and death but it didn’t seem real until it affected someone in my tight circle. Since his passing, I have replayed countless memories of my grandfather and I talking about Cincinnati sports, his recent golf outings, and my career interests, but nothing can take away the pain knowing he is no longer with us.
While at his homegoing service this past weekend, attendees emphasized Mr. Michael’s humility, trust in the Lord, commitment to justice, and always present dependability. I learned a lot, including the fact that he was on the 1970 Ohio high school state championship basketball team – an accomplishment he never spoke about. However, I wanted to use this space to share my own memories from my grandfather over the years. Below I have described a few of the lessons I learned from him while he was on this earth:
- Breaking color barriers: Outside of Tiger Woods, Mr. Michael was the only Black person I knew who played golf and boy was my grandfather committed. Whether it was 90 degrees outside or below freezing temperatures, if the greens were clear, Mr. Michael was there with his clubs. His commitment to playing golf was deeper than just a game. Golf was an outlet that gave him joy, life-long friendships, and revealed his competitive spirit. What he did not know was that while he was winning golf tournament championships, I was learning that I, too, have the capacity to shift narratives in historically white and racist spaces. It is through his inspiration and life story that I will continue to be an agent of social change. I never had the chance to play 9 rounds with him, though he did gift me his driver and putter and taught me how to properly swing a club. A skill I am still working on, filled with lessons I will never forget.
- Less is more: The ability to command a room without speaking is a gift. Mr. Michael did not speak much, but when he did you listened carefully in order to catch all of the wisdom he articulated in only 2-3 sentences. Growing up, this confused a little bit because he is literally one of the smartest people I know. From watching the news to reading the daily newspaper, he knew a lot about everything but was never pressed to broadcast his intellect and aptitude. As I matured, I learned that effective communication starts with active listening. Another skill in which Mr. Michael modeled the way.
- Role of a husband: Mr. Michael never missed an important event in his family’s life. He attended every graduation, athletic event, and awards ceremony even when he was going through chemotherapy. More importantly, his love for my grandmother was unparalleled and inspiring. Nitamom and Mr. Michael were inseparable; best friends and partners in life that exhibited what a healthy relationship should look like. I never doubted for a second that my Nitamom would want for anything in life while he was on this earth. Mr. Michael’s altruistic leadership will forever serve as an example of how to live Christ-centered marriage.
Whenever my grandfather and I would leave one another, he would always tell me to “be good.” I always responded, “I will,” though I never really knew what that meant. Listening to everyone share stories about his life, I now know that “be good” was a galvanizing command to always do my best, be my own person, and do good unto others. I find solace in this mandate because these two words succinctly describe Mr. Michael’s legacy on earth. He was a humble leader who chose to be a blessing to others because of the overabundance in his life. He was a faithful servant who drew others to Christ, simply by being himself. He was a husband and father who emulated what it means to be a man of God.
The next several weeks will be a challenge as we all begin to live a new normal without Mr. Michael’s firm handshake or timely foresight. I am thankful for those who have supported me during this time and have extended grace over my family. I grateful for my family for allowing me to lean on them as I grieve and providing countless laughter and smiles over the weekend.
Nitamom – we got you. For as long as I am here, you will have a piece of Mr. Michael on this earth.
Mr. Michael – thank you for everything. I know you will watch over and protect me as I continue to make you proud. I promise I will “be good” and learn how to hit a golf ball in the process.
My dad Illya said it best. It is Mr. Michael’s “gentleness” that we will remember most. Not because he was weak or feeble, but because he lived a life of “power under control.”
Tell someone you love them today. I promise you won’t regret it.
Encourage somebody to be great today!