February 27, 2020

Everyone Needs a Friend Like Mike

I met Mike in second grade. Our family had just moved to San Jose, Calif., where my father was recruited to be the cantor at the only Modern Orthodox synagogue in the city. Mike’s father was the shul president. Our parents became close friends. Mike and I became best friends.

We shared the same classroom and sat next to each other. Mr. Wilson, our second-grade teacher, divided the class into three reading groups, each occupying a corner of the room. Mike was an avid reader, so he placed in the high group. I wasn’t, so I was in the middle group. Mike lobbied our teacher to move me into his group so we could still sit next to each other. 

The pressure was on and it forced me to work on my reading. I spent Sunday mornings at Mike’s house reading the newspaper, a habit I learned to love. He went on to get a degree in business. I got a degree in journalism. 

Mike was the smartest person I’ve ever met. He knew everything about everything. His brain was bursting with curiosity and creativity. He had solutions for every political and societal problem. Innovative business ideas flowed endlessly. But his primary business kept him busy, as he dreamed of new and exciting ways to change the world. 

I envied Mike’s optimism and love for life. His greatest passions were his wife and kids followed closely by his parents and brothers. He spoke often about his father, a World War II veteran who helped liberate the Nazi death camps. My parents were in those camps. In a strange way, our parents’ very different histories helped mold their friendships.

Mike’s family had great genes. His grandparents lived to over 100 and his parents were healthy and youthful as they aged. When we were growing up, we would joke that his family wasn’t human. They lived forever. 

There is no replacing a best friend. You get one and that’s it.

That’s why it was so shocking when he casually told me he had seen a doctor about a lump in his throat. Soon tests confirmed the news we all dreaded. An aggressive cancer. 

Oddly, Mike wasn’t fearful. At least he didn’t show it. To him it was just another challenge that he would undoubtedly beat. Over the next seven years, he underwent multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy. 

While following his medical team’s treatment plan, he created one of his own. He researched his cancer down to its unique cellular structure. A believer in holistic healing, he formulated a plan of diet and natural supplements to augment modern medicine. As he would say, “it couldn’t hurt.”

His optimism gave him the strength to fight, but it was up and down. He kept me posted on his condition. I just listened because I knew that’s what he needed. One day, he called after receiving the results of what his doctors referred to as a “miracle” scan. He was in great spirits and we made plans to celebrate New Year’s Eve together with our wives. But as the holiday approached, he cancelled. He didn’t give a reason. He didn’t have to.  

Over the next nine months I watched my best friend slip away. Our conversations focused on remembering the good old days. 

And then he was gone. 

In this age of social media, friendships can be fleeting. But not best friends. You can disagree and argue. But if it is a true best friend, you always return to the place when you first met and remember that best friends are forever, in life and even after.

I miss my best friend. I miss reminiscing about our shared childhood. I miss hearing about his latest business ideas. I miss his weekly Friday calls when he would wish me and my family a “wonderful and blessed Shabbos.” 

But most of all I miss his sincerity. A regular friend will ask how you’re doing and hope you don’t tell them. A best friend will want to hear the answer because they care.

There is no replacing a best friend. You get one and that’s it. Hopefully yours is someone like Mike.

Harvey Farr runs a Los Angeles-based public relations firm specializing in nonprofit marketing.