I met Michael Gorringe on the second day of my journey. He was a permanent resident at Sheep World, which (if you haven’t read the beginning of the blog) is sort of a retirement community/rv park just north of Auckland, New Zealand with hot pink sheep in the front pasture. Yes. Hot pink sheep.
I parked my scooter, unloaded my pack and set my tent up on the front lawn. Mike introduced himself & invited me over for a meal. He poured us each a glass of whiskey, and told me about his life while he cooked dinner. We were kindred spirits/instant friends/cut from the same wacky cloth, and even though I only spent two days there, I cried when I said goodbye to him.
We stayed in touch through email after I left Sheep World. He followed each blog post, anxiously awaiting the next, and then would send me the most generous words of encouragement about where I was/what I was doing at the time. He also sent detailed updates on what he was up to…always learning new country songs to sing at the clubs & sometimes serving as an informal guide for tourists and friends visiting New Zealand.
I hadn’t heard from Mike in a while, and if I’m honest, I intuitively already knew what I would find yesterday when I googled his name. An obituary. From January 17th. I haven’t cried that hard in a long time. I always, always hoped I would drive up to Sheep World again & see him mowing the grass. Or find him cutting lettuce with his pocket knife for his dinner. Or sitting on his front porch, watching the sunset. I know he waited for my return someday too.
My mind took that crumb & ran away with it last night into a dark and selfish shame spiral. Why hadn’t I figured out some way to afford to go back to visit? He loved country music more than anyone I’ve ever met….and I used to work in the country music business. I had a plan to surprise him and fly him to Nashville when I finished the book and had some extra money. Just seeing the joy on his face at Robert’s or The Station Inn would have been worth it. But I haven’t finished the book. And years have passed. And now he’s dead. And there is not a damn thing I can do to change any of it. I felt like I let my friend down. On and on and on went the regret and guilt and grief. I beat myself up until I could barely breathe.
Then I began frantically searching for the hard drive that contained the videos I took of Mike sharing his love story and the loss of his wife, Philomena. The videos are in segments, because I recorded him on my phone, before I purchased a camera in China. My phone kept filling up, and I had to stop Mike a handful of times, delete everything I could as quickly as I could on my phone, so I could continue recording. None of the segments are titled. Of course, this is the very first one (posted below) I just happened to open last night, in the dark, quiet of my house.
Then I watched all of them. And laughed with him when he laughed (which was often) and cried with him when he cried….and by the end of all of the footage, most of that guilt and grief had eased, and I just felt overwhelming gratitude and love for this human. Gratitude that I even went on that wild path that took me to New Zealand. Gratitude that I couldn’t afford any of the expensive hotels I passed, and that I kept going just a little farther down the road, until I saw those hot pink sheep. Gratitude for Mike’s warm welcome and generosity. For his company. For his willingness to share his losses and his triumphs with me. For the genuine vulnerability with which he spoke his truth. I can’t really explain how lucky I feel to have shared time with this beautiful soul while we were both here on this giant spinning rock in space. I loved him & he loved me.
It is time to finally stare down my fear of failure & finish editing the manuscript. Not out of regret or grief or guilt, but out of love and honor for the people, like Mike, who cared for and guided me along that wild route around the world. The people who transformed this story into something so much bigger and more beautiful than the lie that came out of A’s mouth. The people who saved me. Or held space so I could save myself. You will be hearing more from me in the coming months…
For now, I wanted to share with you this very short segment from Mike’s interview. I really wish you could have met him:
Oh, dear friend. It would have never been enough. I miss you. Thank you. For everything.