BIG SMILE: REMEMBERING MICHAEL
When I spoke about Michael Walter to people who didn’t know him, I’d call him our Transplant Olympian. Following two liver transplants and all their complications, he became a long-distance swimmer, eventually earning 25 gold medals. For those of us who knew him, he was just Michael, the most joyful person we’ve ever known with the biggest smile. Michael passed away in April, following two decades with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis.
When I’d ride next to him in a cycling class, who encouraged me as if I, too, had a shot at the Olympics? Michael. When a friend needed to improve her swimming technique to participate in a community triathlon, guess who trained her? Michael. Who spent the days before Thanksgiving making more pies than his family could possibly eat? Yep, Michael.
GOOD-BETTER-BEST DRILL: A FLEXIBLE GUIDELINE
When Michael would teach a cycling class, he’d sometimes lead a drill called Good-Better-Best. It’s a flexible guideline that has participants give Good work for a specific period of time, then Better for a shorter period, then their Best for a brief spurt, maybe for only 10 seconds. Some days 10 seconds felt like a lot to me. I wondered what those bursts felt like to him on his bad days. I’ll never know. He smiled through them.
Although I don’t know what it’s like to live with chronic liver disease, I do know what it’s like to have your life permanently shift. Some days, the not-Good days, it’s hard to do anything for others. I tell myself I will serve once things are Better. Michael called me and all of us to something higher — to our Best. I can’t think of anyone who so lived a life of Chronic Joy.
One way to write a poem is to compile a list of words and use them as prompts. For this poem, I built a word bank from Michael’s obituary. I didn’t use all the words I chose, but the words pointed me in the right direction.
Here’s my list: trumpet, hall of fame, big smile, upbeat, friendly, chronic, fullest, coaching, shining example, cherished friends, bonus years, selfless, blessed, lend a hand, complete
MICHAEL SHANE WALTER
His smile was chronic
a Hall of Fame from ear to ear
like a trumpet, every note a shining example
to (yes of course) live
every bonus year to the fullest.
And to live selfless,
fit to lend a hand,
coaching, cherished, complete.
IT’S YOUR TURN
Who inspires you? Write them a poem or at least a short note.
Here’s a poem by Lucille Clifton titled “05/23/67 R.I.P.” that is a sort of obituary for poet Langston Hughes, who discovered her and encouraged her writing. The poem’s title is the date of Hughes’ death. I like this poem because it holds so much emotion, people “running and crying” and the word “gone” repeated.
Even when you don’t feel like writing a poem, you can always journal about one. All you need is a pencil and paper (or a computer, if you prefer to be able to read your own writing).
- Read the poem.
- Jot down what you notice, what you like, what you don’t, what questions you have, and at least one way in which the poem speaks to your soul.
- Read the poem again, aloud (if you didn’t the first time). Is there anything you notice this time that you want to add to your journal?
You can view our Submission Guidelines here. When submitting a poem, please complete the release form on our Permissions page. Along with your release form (and your submission, of course), include a brief bio and headshot as well as links to your website and social media.
We look forward to reading your poems!