The Oath, Finale: My Ride’s Here.

On the past Wednesday, Mitch Bird, Scholar, Poet, and Friend, went flying with the angels.

On the past Wednesday, Mitch Bird, Scholar, Poet, and Friend, went flying with the angels.

I met Mitch on a Sunday, over a decade ago, at Comics Ink. He loved the same comics that I did, and was funny, outgoing and kind. He had a beautiful wife who was actually a rocket scientist, and the two rapidly became my friends. On the last comic book shipping day, Mitch finally lost his long battle with cancer, and passed away peacefully in the night. I am much poorer for it.

Mitch Bird spent much of his career as a medical program editor, basically making the writings of doctors readable to others, and thus reproducible. He didn’t like it much, he would much rather have been writing poetry. I think he never really understood how much he co opted his writing ability into improving the quality of life, and health of people all over America. He would much rather have been spending his time writing blank verse, and discussing literature.

About six years ago his wife died of cancer, well before her time. Mitch had a hard time recovering from that, and to be honest, so did I. She was as wonderful as she was pretty, and one of the good people in the world. Mitch felt, quite correctly, that he didn’t have enough time with her. When he was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, it was quite a blow.

Over the past few weeks, as his liver had ceased functioning, I’ve had to watch my friend disappear by inches, a bit at a time. He’s been less coherent, less able to talk, and use the brilliant mind he spent so much time cultivating. It has been hard to watch, but all of his friends have been there, to guide him through the toughest of times. We’d sit with him, and talk about the things that he loved, talk about what was going on, and include him. No one ever talked about the elephant in the room, the looming end.

The last time I saw him, we were all there, in his living room. Surrounded by the folk art that he collected, as an anthropologist…each piece with its own complex, interesting story. He got to be in the place he was most comfortable, surrounded by his loved ones, which was a good thing. That last day we saw him, it was hard for him to stay conscious, and coherent, and I worried that it was a short time until he was gone.

The art above used the same, older process that I used when I drew him a piece that he kept on his desk, in his office. I didn’t know that until a few weeks ago, it was a pre-Adequacy piece of art, about his favorite beers. I wanted the look of my friend wearing his beloved denim jacket, walking away happily, as if he was going on a vacation, or to someplace nice. Like he was picking up a ride to the airport.

Mitch didn’t believe in any kind of god, or heaven, or hell, or any of that nonsense. He was Jewish, and in the Jewish tradition there isn’t any kind of afterlife…but he took it further. He was culturally Jewish…a better Jew than me, by a whole lot, but a sworn atheist. This made me sad, toward the end. I want my friend to have been reunited with his wonderful wife, I want my friend to have just gotten into a metaphysical taxicab, piloted by angels, and brought to some great reward. For me, as much as for him, I wanted some comforting idea that it just wasn’t a useless tragedy.

I’m selfish, though. I want to get one of his book length text messages, that always came at the most inconvenient time of day and drove me crazy. I want him to contact me inconveniently to try and set up a dinner, amidst the most busy week of my year. I want my friend back, and that isn’t going to happen.

To be fair, he hasn’t been around since his “Going Away Party” about five weeks ago. After that, the decline was pretty rapid…a few people that I know suggest that it was on purpose. That he was letting go, trying not to be a burden of any kind any longer.

The news came to me in the middle of the busiest day of work that I have ever had as an educator. I had to be tough, I had to choke it back, and be responsible. I’m a role model, and I have things to do, right? The whole day, the news sat there, waiting to become more real, later. I’ve spent today, Saturday, wrestling with it, coming to grips with it. The art was pretty helpful in working my way through it, and processing the information to my emotional self.

I’ve decided that the art is what I want to believe. That my friend, Mitch Bird, the poet, has left the world to go and be with his wife. I can’t prove it, I don’t believe in anything that supports that thesis, but it’s the only thing that makes the bitter pill go down easier. So, True Believers, that’s the @#$%ing truth today. That’s why he’s looking back over his shoulder with the hint of a smile.

He’s leaving us to go where he belongs, and will be happy in a way that he just hasn’t been in years. I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.

Without the old school Marvel Trade Dress.

Without the old school Marvel Trade Dress.

With any luck, I’ll be able to compile some of his poetry, and at least publish it as a Kindle Book, partially fulfilling one of his major wishes. That’s in the weeks to come, when the wound is less…raw.

I’m not so great at poetry, but I love music. There’s a song by Warren Zevon, as he neared the end of his life (also from cancer) that I’ve been thinking about with respect to Mitch for the past few weeks. The title of this post comes from another Zevon song, also about his cancer diagnosis. The song I have in mind is called “Keep Me In Your Heart For a While,” and the lyrics are below. Click here to listen to it.

“Shadows are fallin’ and I’m runnin’ out of breath
Keep me in your heart for a while
If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for a while

When you get up in the mornin’ and you see that crazy sun
Keep me in your heart for a while
There’s a train leavin’ nightly called “When All is Said and Done”
Keep me in your heart for a while

Keep me in your heart for a while
Keep me in your heart for a while

Sometimes when you’re doin’ simple things around the house
Maybe you’ll think of me and smile
You know I’m tied to you like the buttons on your blouse
Keep me in your heart for a while

Hold me in your thoughts
Take me to your dreams
Touch me as I fall into view
When the winter comes
Keep the fires lit
And I will be right next to you

Engine driver’s headed north up to Pleasant Stream
Keep me in your heart for a while
These wheels keep turnin’ but they’re runnin’ out of steam
Keep me in your heart for a while

Keep me in your heart for a while
Keep me in your heart for a while.”

I feel like this is how Mitch felt in the last few weeks, and we will keep him in our hearts.

He loved Stan lee…so…excelsior.


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