When I first met Michelle, the first thing she did was hug me.
It all started when Michelle emailed me one morning and asked to interview me for the newspaper. I was floored. I met her at a coffee shop. I wore my most expensive T-shirt.
This was early in my fledgling career—if you can call it a career. I had never done an interview before.
At the time, I was living with my mother-in-law in a house that smelled like bath powder and Febreeze plug-ins. My wife and I resided in a bedroom the size of a casket and shared a restroom with my mother-in-law.
Trust me, no matter how rough your life is, it gets a little rougher when you share a bathroom with your mother-in-law.
Back then, I spent my days working on novels and columns, and I spent my evenings working late hours as a beer-joint musician. My wife served as a caregiver to her mother; my mother-in-law spent her weekdays listening to HGTV at volumes loud enough to liquify Pittsburgh steel.
That was our life.
So I drove to Mobile one afternoon to meet Michelle for the interview. I was nervous. I showed up early. My hair was long, tied back in a ponytail. My beard looked unkempt.
Before entering the café, I glanced at my unsightly reflection in a window and cringed. I was wondering what Michelle’s reaction to me would be.
She hugged me. That was her reaction. She rose from her table and embraced me.
When the “Mobile Press-Register” later ran her article about my work, I read her words while seated in my mother-in-law’s living room, as Chip and Joanna Gaines blared on television loud enough to levitate furniture.
Nobody had ever written the kinds of things Michelle wrote about me. And probably never will again.
The next day I started getting calls from people in my life. People had seen the write-up in the paper. My aunt even drove over to Mobile and purchased approximately 7,000,000 copies of the newspaper to give as Christmas presents and wedding gifts.
Over the years, Michelle and I became friends. We met for lunch. We talked about writing. We got together for beer and tacos.
So when her husband, Matt, was diagnosed with a tumor on the left temporal lobe last year, yeah, it hurt.
Matt is a great guy. A newspaperman to the core. A writer’s writer. My first introduction to Matt was after he had retired from the newspaper business and was working as editor for—seriously—America’s leading elevator magazine.
I asked him how things were going in the elevator industry. He looked at me, deadpan, and said, “It has its ups and downs.”
Since Matt’s diagnosis, Michelle’s life has been refocused. She’s kept herself upbeat. She’s remained positive. I’ve never once heard her or Matt complain. But it doesn’t take a genius to realize that this has been the year from perdition.
Still, somehow Michelle has continued. She has continued being a mom to two kids, continued cooking suppers, making beds, being the laundry fairy, and looking after her people. Also—and don’t ask me how—she’s found a way to keep producing first-rate newspaper stories.
As Matt’s cancer has progressed, I am certain things have gotten harder for her. But Michelle has never wavered. She’s just kept moving. Kept cheering. Kept believing. Kept fighting. Kept smiling. She will likely be canonized in her own lifetime.
I bring all this up because one of Matt’s lifelong dreams is to take a road trip on U.S. Route 66. He wants to ride the chipped American highway and see the sunset in Amarillo, or the Milky Way over the Mojave.
And even though they can’t afford to take an elaborate trip like this right now, if you ask me, they can’t afford not to take this trip, either.
So I suppose I’m formally asking you, whoever you are, to pray for my two friends. And not only them, but for all friends whose lives have been touched by cancer. Right now, I can think of 12 people within my inner circle who seriously need your prayers. I’m betting you can think of more people, too.
I know you’re busy. I know you have your own problems. But also, I know that prayer works. And I know that nothing would be better than to see Michelle and Matt careening down an open highway with the top down, motoring West along the Mother Road. Together.
Right now, Michelle is probably reading these words and wondering what exactly she just read here.
This is my hug to you, Michelle.