Mike Made People Smile
My late father Mike was born and raised in a dangerous and depriving world. His early life was marked by abject suffering and privation, with bitter poverty, persecution and pogroms. Worse still, the Nazis and other haters of Jews killed many of his family members.
Mike was raised in “Kamai,” a small shtetl (like the mythical Anatevka in Fiddler On The Roof) in Lithuania, where he lived with his parents and nine brothers and sisters in a one-room clapboard-walled house with a grass-thatched roof, an earthen floor, and a single potbellied stove for heat. (I am in awe that I live in such contrasting comfort.)
In spite of this challenging upbringing, he grew up to be a benevolent, caring, generative and resilient adult. He was the inspiration for my book “Our Emotional Footprint: Ordinary People and Their Extra-Ordinary Lives.”
Mike came to the New World (in a ship’s steerage) as a bewildered 18 year old, speaking no English, with no resources, education or money. At first he toiled at menial jobs (bricklayer, cleaner), and soon after he learned some manual trades as a talented apprentice. He lived in a poor immigrant area, and fell in love with a beautiful and brilliant neighbor girl, whom he married. They had three children, of whom I was the oldest.
Over the course of his long life (he died at age ninety-one), he had his share of heartening experiences (family, friends, upholstery business), and he endured setbacks, including severe illnesses, losses, an autistic child, romantic convolutions and business failure, to name a few.
Given his challenges, Mike could easily have become an embittered man, but instead, he was always appreciative and kind, caring and interested in others. He spoke a few languages that he picked up in Eastern Europe, but had to teach himself to speak and read English. He loved reading, playing chess and gin rummy, listening to classical music, conversations, and occasional schnapps. But mainly, Mike loved people.
Simply put, he made people smile. He invariably affected (“infected,” as in the sociology term, “social contagion”) those around him – family and neighbors, friends and shopkeepers, coworkers and strangers – with his ready warmth, interest and compassion. This wonderful and unassuming “ordinary man” led an Extra-ordinary life, filled with grace, appreciation and immense gratitude for his good fortune.
He left virtually no material acquisitions or wealth when he died, but he did leave a remarkable legacy to his family, friends and community: Warm memories (and smiles) of him as a deeply caring, loving and lovable human being. His very presence when he was alive and the reminiscences of him since he died warmly touched all those around him. He made the world a better place with his Positive Emotional Footprint.
You may be fortunate enough to know individuals just like my father, whose lives are complex and difficult at times and fulfilling at others, yet who grace our world with their consistently warm presence, their goodness and their essential humanity.
Perhaps you yourself are such a person…If so, I congratulate you.