Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life. John Muir
It was a gorgeous Indian summer day when I heard the news that Mikey Czech had passed away. It was the kind of day Mikey Czech would have loved – warm, breezy and perfect for New England Patriots football. Mikey was 11 years old and had been battling a brain tumor for months with extraordinary courage and resolve. Over the course of the spring and summer of 2008, Mikey had become his generation’s Johnny Gunther Jr. demonstrating with every step, breath, treatment, and remarkable milestone, that the size of one’s body has no relation to the size of one’s heart.
I was 14 years old when I read the book, Death Be Not Proud, by John Gunther Sr, who chronicled the battles of his son Johnny Gunther Jr., as he valiantly fought a brain tumor. The memory of this best selling novel written in 1949 remains with me to this day and changed my perspective on how each of us can achieve meaning in our fragile lives. Not unlike John Gunther Sr, Mikey’s dad Steve Czech chose to chronicle his son’s battle via emails to family and friends giving and drawing strength from the community and the humanity that seemed to arise out of every “How’s Mikey” moment.
I followed young Master Czech’s story with keen interest and smiled as Mikey became a beloved accidental celebrity. A broad audience of concerned friends, family and acquaintances regularly gathered inspiration from his progress following treatments and were amazed at the extent of outreach, well wishes, support and prayers that he received from the farthest reaches of the world, from celebrities, athletes and dignitaries. Mikey became a surrogate son to many of us who followed his brave journey. At 11 years old, he was near the age of my own boys and it was only by one degree of separation that I realized it could be me sitting in a pediatric chemotherapy wing waiting for my child.
I watched Mikey fight hard. He downplayed with his parents and sister Sydney the disabling effects of his chemotherapy and radiation. He insisted on walking the several blocks to and from the hospital where he was receiving his treatments. He dreamed of getting back to play baseball and football with his friends. He threw out the first pitch, kicking off the 2008 New Canaan Baseball season, returning to play and graft back easily on to the huge oak of friends that shaded him and gave him strength. I was so pleased to see kids in the community aware and rallying unconditionally in their support for Mikey –writing letters, sending cards, creating a massive banner and wearing Stay Strong wrist bands.
Throughout this long journey across a pitched black ocean, the Czech’s family ship kept taking on new crew, people wanting to lend a hand, offer a hug or just take a turn on the helm to let the family grab some shut-eye. Mikey became every man’s child which is what every church, synagogue, temple or mosque strives to inculcate into its congregations – – that every child is our child, that no man is an island and that we are given the capacity and emotional bandwidth at our creation to care for everyone.
For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave, The black minute’s at end, And the elements’ rage, the friend-voices that rave, Shall dwindle, shall blend, Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain, Then a light, then thy breast, O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again, And with God be the rest. Robert Browning
Mikey’s passing is devastating – – for his family, his friends and his community. As a father of three children, neighbor and fellow member of the Czech’s community, I find myself unable to even comprehend the magnitude of the family’s loss. I arise each day, first and foremost, a father who adores, loves, shapes and mends his children. I have come to believe the true definition of joy is watching someone you love obtain happiness and that despair is the inability to trade places with that person you love to ameliorate their pain. It’s times like these that we look to Heaven for answers and we ask questions – lot’s of questions. Most often, we simply ask why? However, if Mikey were here, I am certain he would be pleased that he brought people together and he would want us to celebrate his life. He would probably explain that he has just run ahead of us into that deep mysterious wood around the trail’s curve. He’s checking it out and he’s laughing as he shouts back, “ it’s beautiful. I’ll just wait for you guys to catch up. Bring your baseball glove!”
You’re just a bit ahead of me
Exploring all there is to see
I can’t be sad to see you run
It’s who you are. You are my son
It’s better when you’re by my sleeve
But I accept that you must leave
I’m supposed to take the lead
To clothe, to love, to teach, to feed
But you so full of life and spirit
You love the trail and never fear it
You made me more a man each day
Watching the way you lived and played
But now I’m in a shadowed place
I’ve lost my way, can’t see your face
The fear sets in, this path is wrong
And then I hear your happy song
It’s rushes waving in a breeze
The way the snow rests soft on trees
A single star aloft in space
The wind’s caress across my face
Our hands can’t touch but you are there
I feel your breath and smell your hair
Your song tells me you’ll be all right
Until the day we reunite
Mikey’s Song, M. Turpin