Forever, he is bicycling past me, wearing a huge, goofy hat and that huge, infectious grin, as if it is always a beautiful Saturday morning in Las Cruces. He is waving. I can't quite hear what he's saying, but his joy needs no words.
He was a playful man. His grin really was infectious. He brought to Dick and Sherry Thomas's 50th wedding anniversary masks, funny hats, false noses, and costumes – and a photo booth in which guests could take their own pictures. This generated much silliness – and strips of snapshots that still make us smile. Saturday mornings at the Farmers' Market, he used to ride up to us, with unruly hair, a funny hat, and colorful striped socks. Then he didn't, any more.
He was a serious man. He served on both the county commission (as a Republican) and the city council (while a Democrat). He served the public well. He cared – about people and government. He was also a dedicated member of the dancers out in Tortugas.
He was a troubled man, in pain. He flew like a condor coasting on wind currents high above us, then fell into dark, deep pits of depression with steep walls. He suffered from bipolar disorder. He still called himself an alcoholic, although he hadn't taken a drink for a very long time. Asked how he was, he invariably answered, “Blessed.” His tone and steady eyes gave the word a little extra stress, as when someone depresses the piano pedal that elongates a note. He was grateful to feel blessed.
He was a family man. I saw it in his face when his brother, former mayor of Deming, was dying of cancer. He loved and admired his brother, and was deeply affected by his brother's death. He also had a strong awareness of the past. He co-founded the Day of the Dead celebration in Mesilla and often made altars to honor those who'd gone before.
I enjoyed our lunches, at which we laughed and talked intensely. We didn't always agree, but who does? Now, of course, I wish there had been more lunches. I wish that after the election I'd tried harder to spend time with him.
Many of us are wandering around in a daze, full of grief and regrets.
We ask “why?” but even his closest friends don't know. Yes, he was emotionally fragile. Yes, he took losing the mayoral election hard. We citizens discuss elections, respecting both the winning and the losing candidate; but to the loser it's necessarily personal. It's not Houston's football team losing to Kansas City. It's you, alone, boldly putting yourself out there, then feeling that your community has rejected you.
The loss hurt; but he seemed to be slowly coming to terms. Then everything overwhelmed him.
Some of this doesn't usually go in eulogies; but it's real. It was part of him. Illness shouldn't define his life, but neither was it shameful. Others should be as open as he could be.
He was a brave man. To become the wonderful guy and caring and successful public servant he was, he overcame extra hurdles. Insidious ones. That magnifies his achievements. Maybe, too, his struggles strengthened his compassion for others.
Our regrets can't help him; but could each of us be a little more perceptive, a little more proactive, a little less shy with other friends and co-workers whose hold on life is fragile?
Maybe that's what he's saying from the bicycle: “I'm at peace, but a little extra warmth could help others you know who are in pain.”
Thank you, Miguel!
[The column above is slated to appear in the Las Cruces Sun-News tomorrow morning, Sunday, 24 January, and will appear later in the morning on the KRWG-TV website under News-->Local Viewpoints.]
[ I wrote this pretty much immediately upon hearing the sad news. Although we tinkered with it thereafter, I felt very strongly that it should be as it is -- but worried that friends or family who thought otherwise might feel hurt or offended. As I mention in the column, I not only care about accuracy but don't see the sorts of struggles the column alludes to as shameful or unmentionable. If anything, recognizing them should increase our respect for Miguel and perhaps might help friends make sense of what he did.]
[Not mentioning Miguel's name (except his first name in the last line) was also intentional. In part, I felt that not having to mention it was a sign of respect. Everyone (in our County, at least) will know whom I'm talking about without my having to identify him.]
[He was a great guy. We also disagreed about a couple of political issues. We both loved Las Cruces -- and also the Tortugas danzas -- in our different ways and based on our different experiences and relationship. Above all, I treasured someone who really appreciated people, spent a lot of time trying to improve local government here, and could talk seriously with you or make you laugh.]
[I should also mention that Rob Yee and Kari Bachman climbed Tortugas Mountain and set up an altar there to Miguel. We think he would have liked that, given his own preoccupation with the dead, and his having built more than a few altars himself. I mention it partly to make sure that folks mourning him are aware of the option (for expressing their grief or respect) of climbing up there and visiting the altar, perhaps adding to it.]