Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Game of Life...It's a $#@!*%

How long do you expect to live?

Is it something you've even thought about? I assume you may have pondered the question a time or two, but I don't know. Hopefully you haven't obsessed over it.

After all, life's too short.

As for me, I've contemplated the matter quite often ever since I was very young – especially once I realized that, as a child of the 1950s, it was entirely possible I could live to see the dawn of the 21st century.

("Two-thousand-zero-zero, party's over – Oops! Out of time....")
The late, great, Rev. Angelo Henderson

I'm a Christian, so I truly believe my life is entirely in God's hands anyway. But you can't help but wonder every now and then, can you?

When I was diagnosed with kidney failure (or the more sinister-sounding "end-stage renal disease") in 2008, subsequently went on dialysis and eventually received a 2011 transplant, I figured my final calculations needed to shrink by several years. I mean, my "invincible" body had shown its mortality, and now somebody else's strange spare part was wedged inside me, helping me live.

I have to take pills every day for the rest of my life to keep my natural immune system weak enough so my imported kidney won't stage a revolt, get rejected and screw up the rest of my body. I have been compromised in any number of ways.

Like my Mama used to say, "Once they cut you open and let the air get inside you, you're never the same." As far as longevity goes, this can't be a good thing.

But for now, I'm 60 (I've ever admitted to that until now, and I may never write it again), feel like 30, act like 20 (or so my wife insists) and relish my health and every sunrise. Life is sweet.

Every so often, though, an event takes place that smacks you between the eyes and makes you start recalculating your "out" number all over again.

Usually it's the death of someone very dear to your heart.

Recently, as I wrote in my post "Requiem for a Heavy Hitter," reality came biting with the passing of Rich Berkowitz, founder and president of the national organization Home Dialyzors United and a man dedicated to a noble cause: giving all dialysis patients a choice, and a voice. Rich was an acquired taste, but I slowly came to develop an appetite for his blunt, effective manner and discovered the warm heart beneath.

Rich died suddenly, and unexpectedly, but to be honest he wasn't in the best of shape. He had been on various forms of dialysis himself for many, many years, and over time the procedure exacts a heavy toll on your body. On the heels of losing Rich, however, has come a death that rocked me to my emotional core – and apparently, did the same to an entire city.

I've known Angelo B. Henderson since we worked together on the same newspaper staff in Detroit back in the 1980s. He went on to receive the Pulitzer Prize, journalism's version of the Oscars, at the Wall Street Journal. He hosted a weekday radio program on Detroit's WCHB radio, a station I worked for a generation earlier. His afternoon show, "Your Voice," became required daily listening for thousands of Detroiters and, some would contend, played a key role in helping to overthrow a corrupt City Hall administration.
Angelo with his lovely and talented wife, Felecia.

In other words, we were given the same raw materials, but Angelo used his to much greater advantage. In fact, he upped the ante by becoming a minister, a force in the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and a passionate community organizer.

Coming out of the Jay-Z concert at the Palace of Auburn Hills recently, filled with the joy of music, Angelo slipped on a patch of ice and jacked up his knee. Basically incapacitated, he was recuperating at home while others willingly assumed his public duties.

Bored of just sitting, I'm sure – the words "Angelo Henderson" and "inactivity" never found the same sentence – he reached out to me to help him play one of our mutual guilty pleasures, the online version of Family Feud. If he couldn't amass all 200 points in the "Big Money Round" by himself, he would ask me to play the other side of the board, and vice versa. We were getting pretty good at it, too.

One day we're channeling Steve Harvey. Overnight, Angelo experienced complications. The next day, he was gone.

Gone! Just like that. Gone. At the extremely tender age of 51.

That's barely more than a half-century. If 50 is the new 30 (and I'm declaring it is), Angelo was barely into middle age.


For the better part of a week, the city of Detroit was in stunned emotional gridlock. Tributes and memories gushed forth on social media. The Detroit Police carried out a major drug sweep in his honor. They're laying him to rest Monday (Feb. 24), and I'm betting the homegoing ceremony is going to be a sight to behold.

If Angelo had to leave us, it almost seems fitting he should die during Black History Month, because he stood as a gleaming example to many of what African Americans today can achieve.

Now, don't get me wrong: You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody who rejoices in life as much as I do. I wallow in the wonder of every day, especially after being given a second chance at it through a selfless organ donor. If I could, however, I'd willingly give a few of my years to Angelo. He would have used them well and wisely, I think.

God took Angelo to be by His side, a good and faithful servant. He leaves behind a beautiful wife and partner, Felecia, a gifted journalist in her own right; and a son, Grant, whom he should have been able to see walk proudly down the aisles of graduation and marriage. We are greedy folk: It feels like Angelo deserved his 70s, at least.

My transplant experts tell me that if I take good care of myself, do what they tell me and eat my Wheaties, this rented kidney of mine could last 20 years or more. So, let's say 82. That sounds like a nice round lifespan number. Eighty-two it is.

And in every one of those remaining years, Angelo Henderson never will be far from my thoughts. My hero and everlasting inspiration. Rest well, brother.