I know they're out there. And I know some of you may even be able to relate to my belief, once you see where its origins lie; in an otherwise faithless yet open person such as myself. Angels do exist, in the most unexpected form. And this time of the year is, and always will be, a constant reminder to me, to never doubt that they walk among us. If one person had never been a part of my life, this blessing would never have shown itself, and without a doubt, I would be a much colder individual than I am now. I never received a vision, I never saw his wings. But he was here, in human form, and gone.. Far too soon. Mike was not the average human being. He was different from day one - Intelligent, funny, personable, with a character that was more than definitely all his own. Even more than his individuality, was an aspect that differentiated him from the crowds in so many ways. His heart alone was an accomplishment, a figure to be admired and cherished with all of your own. He was the epitome of love and devotion, kindness and happiness. The absolute walking image of an angel in disguise. I'll always remember the stories that were told, that continue to shape me as a person. And always will. Mike was not in the best of health by his twenties. A cardiovascular condition rendered him helpless without a pacemaker. But despite the presence of the device, he never wavered. The surgery was not a setback in his mind, but a new beginning and another chance at life. He never would let anything in this world slow him down before the procedure, and nothing ever changed afterwards. There was an elderly man living on the 8th or 9th floor his apartment building. He had heard through the grapevine that the man often struggled with his rent, to the point where food often had to be sacrificed in the name of keeping a roof over his head. Mike himself wasn't well endowed financially, but hearing the story he couldn't help but try to do something for him. He went to a grocery store just down the street from his building and bought a good amount of food from what he could afford. He brought it back to his apartment and sorted, 3/4 of the groceries for the old man, the rest of what was left for himself. With enough for several dinners packed into grocery bags, he started up the stairs to the old man's floor. Despite his pacemaker, despite his own health, he made the trek to the higher apartment and went up to the man's door. When he answered, he told him that he just wanted to do him a favor, and that he hoped the food would be enough to hold him for a while. The old man promptly spit in Mike's face, years of bitterness preventing him from feeling any shred of gratitude. Mike wiped it away and just stood shaking his head. He told the man softly that he should be grateful for what he has, to look for small miracles in the four walls and roof he lives in, and to wake up everyday knowing it could be so much worse. After that time, all he could ever talk about was how he felt so bad for the man, and hoped he was doing better. How he could only imagine what he'd been through in his life, and how he wished he could erase those haunting memories. Mike continued to bring groceries to the old man, 3/4 for him, a quarter for himself. He believed him so much more deserving. Every Christmas presents would be bought for charity, money would be donated. Mike would go out of his way to work in the soup kitchen in his neighborhood, enjoying every moment of giving back to his community. So many groceries would be donated to the food pantries that he almost funded them himself. Toys for Tots always welcomed and recognized his contributions. He left hardly anything to himself. And he would've never had it any other way. His selflessness was beyond compare, an absolute rarity to find in a world so cold. A smile was never far from him, he never hesitated to give the sad or broken a part of himself. In September of 2008, Mike passed away peacefully, at the age of 32. It's no mystery where the biggest and most meaningful inspiration in my life comes from. My cousin Mike was the definition of an angel, walking proof of their existence. When I attended his wake, it was the single most difficult goodbye I have ever had to say in my life. I still remember the sorrow in his brother's eyes, and the tremble in his sister's embrace. Sometimes even now, over a year later, it still doesn't seem true that he's gone. I've caught myself searching for his number, and the phone to call him about something I know he'd find funny, or would be happy to hear. But somehow I'm sure he knows, wherever he is. I hope it's everything he deserves. During the holidays, please remember to spend time with the ones that mean the most to you. Remember the ones you have lost, the ones that are new, the ones you've known your entire life. The best of us are all gone far too soon. Listen to and remember the subliminal lessons that those around us teach, friends, family, lovers... There are those around you that love you with all their hearts, and will cherish you as long as they are with you. I've felt what it is to lose someone so meaningful, so early. Never take them for granted. Never forget. May you have the brightest and most blessed Holiday Season!