Michael (Garfield) Springer and I knew each other through our job at The Met. We worked together for years, many of them in the same role; we were both ticket takers. But, he was more than a co-worker. He was a friend and a truly inspiring person, and there's much from our relationship that I carry with me as I move forward with my life.
When I would get worked up about something that wasn't handled well or a badly-behaving ticket holder, Michael's response was always the same. He would say in his calm, gentle voice, "That's OK." And he would proceed to explain to me how I could keep myself from getting so bent out of shape. Usually those sentences began with, "I just...." And he would describe how he handled similar situations without so much fuss. Michael always led by example, and even though I moved from my job at The Met to a new job last year, I can still hear his voice in my head. When I start getting worked up about something going on in my new job, I hear his calm voice, "That's OK." And I take a breath and try to think about how he would react to whatever relatively minor annoyance had just presented itself.
When I was first getting to know Michael, I thought that he was too nice to people, and I didn't like seeing what I perceived as people taking advantage of him. I wondered why he let them do that, and I think I saw it as some kind of weakness. As I got to know him better, I came to see how wrong I was. Michael was very smart. He knew what was what, and he absolutely saw people for who they were. But, he had near-infinite patience with people and their failings. (And I'm sure he had patience with plenty of mine that he never told me he had noticed.) I only know of one instance in which someone made him angry, and even that situation was handled with grace and calm (and not a bit of weakness).
Another thing Michael often said was that he was trying to get our staff to work together as a team. He thought we'd all be better off if we helped each other, and he was determined to set the example. His helpfulness and generosity were seemingly without limit, and he believed that the rest of us would eventually catch on and behave in the same way. As he and I got closer, I had to figure out ways to be sneaky enough to prevent him from taking my work on his shoulders and find ways to try to reciprocate in some small measure the generosity and helpfulness that he offered so freely. Looking back on it, perhaps I wasn't really being so sneaky, but rather proving Michael's point-- that we really could learn how to work as a team.
On top of this, his many words of kindness and encouragement, our laughs (including those that often followed when we continued to call each other "darling" after our workplace sexual harassment training made clear that that behavior was not acceptable), and our moments of quiet understanding made for a friendship I cherished.
After leaving The Met last September, I visited on several occasions and always made sure to track Michael down for a hug. The last time I saw him (and hugged him) was in late December, and I had no inkling that it would be my last opportunity. I can only hope I was half the friend to him that he was to me.