Mikael Rudolph: A Memorial statement
March 26th, 2010 Social Dance Hall gathering,
I’ve never agreed with someone so strongly, and disagreed with someone so strongly, as I did with Mikael. I always felt like we were on the same team, but there was hardly a time when we could not find something to argue about, and in fact I had to restrain myself from baiting him, because I knew I could get him going with, like, one line.
For tonight, I asked some of his pals for stuff that comes to mind when you think of him.
One friend told of a time in Washington. Michael’s gal pal was staying at the house of this friend’s parents. Mikael went over to pick her up, they sat around for a while in the living room talking. The coffee table had a bowl of fake fruit on it. Several days later, they noticed the banana was gone. It remained a mystery, until this friend saw him at the Renaissance Fair, using the banana as a fake gun; especially to make people leave the stage. He was confronted: “So you’re the guy who stole my mom’s fake banana!” and Mikael’s eloquent, immediate defensewas: “I needed it!”
Another friend: “One thing Mikael got was that you can be a creature of habit- and still live in the moment. When he was performing he fully inhabited every moment of his show---even when things were tough, or he didn't feel well- he could walk into that crowd with his squeaker and meet whatever met him there--as though it were new, every day. While he was a creature of habit-- he could also change his mind. He used to vote Republican--then he organized to impeach George Bush. He was open to change in the moment. That's a gift. And it's a gift I think Mikael gave himself.He lived on his own terms. While he gave himself what he needed--he also found time to give to others. Time, energy, support, excitement, acceptance, entertainment, revolution---these were things he gave us.”
Myself? I got to know Mikael when we talked about the show that became Cancer My Ass. It was about his sister having a stroke, and then Mikael getting cancer, and then his sister getting cancer, and then Mikael getting cured, and his sister dying- and the dreams and visions and visitations he had about all that. How he dealt with her death.
He had made a journal of the whole experience, and I said, “You know, that’s a one person show right there, if you can get it down to 60 minutes.” He thought it was too big, too long. So I said “Cutting that down to size could be a great way for you to work though and process the death of your sister.” Then I said, “I’d love to see a mime do a whole show of talking.” I always thought, here’s one of the fastest, funniest people I’ve ever met, and he’s got a show where he doesn’t ever talk. What a waste!
Cancer My Ass was a beautiful show, and a powerful experience for everyone who came. It wasn’t preachy or churchy, but it was clear and honest and amazing and true and deeply, powerfully spiritual, and redemptive, and healing. Cancer patients and family members came and were helped in their healing. He knew it was a challenge, he knew it would hurt to work on it, and he knew better than anyone how it could help others. I knew it would be good, but I had no idea it would be that good.
Then the ironic second act happened. His cancer came back, and he was getting clobbered. I came to the hospital to visit once, with his squad of pals keeping an eye on him. He fought, and then he gave up, and he fought, and then he gave up. That discipline that made him a great mime, dance teacher, and close-up magic guy, that discipline can also be described as Being a Control Freak, and the process of dealing with something so beyond his control was frustrating, unjust, and his anger was painful to witness. It was hard not to be hurt by some shrapnel in his explosions of rage. I saw more than one terrified nurse scuttling out of there in a hurry.
Soon after, I came back to the ICU as a patient, and I was put into a bed in a room next to his. I was in an induced coma after cardio-respitory arrest. We were both konked out on propolol. After three weeks I came home. It took him longer to come home. And when he did, it was in a hospice setting.
So now my question is one that many of you might have. Why am I at his memorial service instead of him at mine? It’s the same question Mikael had when his sister died.
And the answer is, we don’t know. We don’t know how long we have. I might live to be 85 and I might trip on a curb tomorrow and that would be it. In the meanwhile, I want to do what Mikael did. Eat pizza, hang with friends, talk baseball, try and make people smile, knowing we will eventually have to close down the party.
Here’s how I will remember him best. I brought my 12 year old over to his house for a barbecue, and I asked him to do the two-coin trick. He thought and said, Okay. He dug it out of his truck, made us turn our backs for prep, and when we turned back he started. “I have an English Penny and a Kennedy half dollar in my hand. I take the English Penny, and put it in my pocket, and how many coins do I have in my hand? (One). No you’re not listening.” He’d open his hand and there were two coins. “I have an English Penny and a Kennedy half dollar in my hand... (okay, he did this four times, and the fourth one the result was was “I have No coins in my hand.” The more irritation he showed my kid, the funnier it was. And it seemed like he had as much fun as if he was doing it for 50 people, or a hundred. He did it just for me and my kid, and it was hilarious. That moment will always be alive for me.
So if you feel like there is a Mikael-shaped hole in your life, think about that pain in your heart as a way to keep in touch with him. to keep his memory alive in your life, to bring that smiling devilish gleam in his eye into your eye, and when you see some kid or some adult as gullible as me, take the licence to do what Mikael did, and mess with us.
Now. Mikael had a deep commitment to his faith. It is appropriate to take a moment for a prayer in his tradition at this point. As we pray, please know you don’t have to believe what Mikael believed to be a part of this meditation. Please listen for a word of comfort in this hour which marks our loss.
Let us pray.
God our creator,
We acknowledge the uncertainty of our life on earth.
We are given a mere handful of days,
and our span of life is like the blink of an eye,
and seems to be as nothing.
But the eye that blinks, that is something.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but your truth will stand forever.
In you is our hope. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, you are with us.
Turn your ear to our cry, and hear our prayer.
Look graciously on those who mourn, and bless them,
for they will be comforted, by you and by each other.
And that casting all their care on you, they will know
the consolation of your love, and the love of each other.
God above us and within us,
God support us all the day long,
Until our shadows lengthen,
and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
the fever of life is over,
and our work is done.
Then in your mercy, grant us a holy rest,
and peace at the last.
We ask this in your name, Amein