Last weekend, a beloved Real Change staff member, Michael Garcia, died in his sleep following an undiagnosed concussion. As our entire community struggles to comprehend the loss, I've been reminded of the enormous value of every life, no matter how difficult.
Michael became staff last year after more than five years of selling Real Change. I had the opportunity to get to know him better several years ago at a cross-class Center for Ethical Leadership retreat held on Bainbridge Island. During the drive, I learned about his life.
As a young teen in foster care, a fireworks accident blew off several of his fingertips. There were surgeries. Painkillers led to heroin, years on the street, and eventually, prison. While incarcerated, Michael decided to make something of himself and sought education. His dream, he told me, was to work in the field of solid waste management.
There were, however, barriers. His poverty and treatment for heroin addiction. His battle with Hepatitis C. His felony record. Michael was engaged in an epic struggle toward what, for many of us, would seem a humble goal. His life exemplified the everyday heroism that I so often see in the lives of the very poor.
When Michael applied for a vendor staff position, he was the clear standout in a field of more than 50. He was deeply compassionate, quietly brilliant, and utterly committed to improving the lives of others. Michael was an amazing staff member, doing the work from a place of passion and understanding. "For most of my life, I was a fuck-up," he said. "Now I'm making up for lost time."
To me, Michael's life is a reminder of all those who live lives of hardship and struggle and await their chance to shine. He lived in the light of love, and I feel privileged to have been his friend. A memorial service will be held at Trinity United Methodist Church in Ballard at 2 p.m. this Sun., April 26. The public is welcome.