Michael was a very dear friend, and I didn’t fully appreciate that until yesterday.

When I woke up Sunday morning I had a whatsapp message from a friend in Toronto. I learned that Michael Monson had died on Shabbat. After my wife was up and dressed, I sat down on the bed next to her, put my arm around her and whispered, “Michael Monson passed away on Shabbos.” That news has left a gaping hole in our hearts. For over twenty-five years Michael occupied a unique place in our lives. More than anything else, it was his voice. His precious, precious voice.

My heart aches, and is also filled with regret.

Michael was special, in every way.

And Michael was challenged, in so many ways.

I never knew exactly what the issue or diagnosis was, or if something traumatic had once happened, but Michael wasn’t like most other people. He couldn’t, and didn’t, function quite like most other people.

I have an idea of what friendship means, because Michael taught me.

I have an idea of what loyalty means, because Michael taught me.

I have an idea of what commitment means, because Michael taught me.

I have an idea of what perseverance means, because Michael taught me.

I have an idea of what love means, because Michael taught me.

Twenty-six years ago we moved away from Toronto, and from our friend Michael, but Michael never moved away from us.

Over the years, he called us, probably hundreds of times. Always to see how we were, to see how are children were. To wish us a Shana Tova, a sweet Pesach, or to share with us some good news in his family. I can’t tell you how many times we would come home and hear Michael’s voice on the answering machine. (Remember those?) That special, sweet voice of Michael’s, just calling to say hello. To share, to connect, to teach me about friendship, and loyalty, and perseverance and love. Over and over and over again. For years and decades. Our children know the sweet ring of that voice so well. Michael’s voice on the phone became part of the fabric of our family.

We had certain jokes between us that we shared almost every time we spoke. Michael was like that, certain things could be shared again and again and again, and never get old. We had a running banter about him coming to visit us, though deep down we knew it would never happen, until it did.

Michael flew to Baltimore for the wedding of our oldest daughter. What a treat to have him stay with us. Sweeter than all the sugar in the world. He bonded with my dad, and played cards with our ten-year-old son, at our kitchen table, and at the wedding. Michael loved to play cards and to teach people how to play. I think Crazy Eights was his favorite. He was a Wizard of Oz trivia buff. He loved Gilligan’s Island, as did I. He was one of the world’s fastest, most mistake free typists, in an age when that skill mattered.

Michael was a proud Jew. He loved his parents, siblings, aunts and uncles and had a very special, and very large place in his heart for his nieces and nephews. Their joys were his joys, and he told us about many of them.

After making Aliyah, we had a running banter about him coming to visit us, though deep down we suspected it would never happen, until … it didn’t.

After making Aliyah, we spoke less frequently, and the reason for that rests with me. I wasn’t the student I should have been. For years Michael had been teaching me about friendship and loyalty, but I never rose to the standard he set.

Dear Michael,

My heart aches for you, to hear your sweet voice. How did I allow myself to become so pre-occupied that the noise of my self-centeredness drowned out the voice of your love, your caring, your friendship?

I apologize Michael, for not calling you more often.

Michael, you will always be in our hearts. In our family. Your sweet voice will always be a beacon for me. I hope that now I can better follow the echo of the example you set.

Dear Michael,

Last night Miriam and I were at the Kotel. We davened for you. We gave tzedakkah for you. I so wish we could have stood at the Kotel together.

Dear Michael,

Thank you for the greatest gifts one human being could ever give another; love, caring, and friendship.

Thank you for showing me what it means to be “special.” If only this world would be filled with special people like you, then it would surely become the special place it is meant to be.

Michael Monson

May your soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.