I remember Harvey through my senses.

I remember him once saying that we take in four billion discreet bits of information in any given moment through our sensory channels, that the information is converted to electrical impulses, and that it is forever within us to recall.

That means I will have him with me forever.

I still talk to him a lot.

I remember different things about him every day:

His eyes-ah, his beautiful eyes.

His scent-his scent reminded me of a job well done, of a man, of goodness.

The strong and reassuring grip of his calloused hands-you could tell he told the truth by holding his hands.

The hum of his baritone chords-he would hum Mozart and Bing Crosby. I think he loved the creation of harmonious sounds-the human voice, bird songs, a good choir, the French horn and other instruments. He had a great collection of instruments he had acquired over the years. I think he delighted in his own musical talents. I once heard him sing "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" at a workshop. People sat, deeply moved at the outpouring of truth in his vocalizations. He was so honest and vulnerable when he sang that it often made me cry.

And he would hum a "walking bass line." He would hum away when you were sitting with him, often for long stretches of time. Sometimes I thought he was thinking about things-but in time I came to believe that at those times he was simply enjoying the moment we were sharing together. He seemed to be enjoying it so much-and his enjoyment was infectious.

And there were some particular things I'll always remember about him that make me smile every time I'm reminded:

He grew sweet peas-the scarlet and lavender blossoms brought him joy. If you've ever taken a moment to really look at a sprig of these flowers, they are truly one of the treasures of the world.

He appreciated blackberry vines-while most people hacked and burned them, he cultivated them.

He kept a tremendous supply of calendula seeds-to sow summer fields of saffron. He spoke of the bounty of these flowers in the summertime.

There is an apple tree he cultivated to grow like a tree of life, spreading its arms like a menorah against the outer walls of the basement at Personal Counselors. I used to spend a lot of time back there by the tool shed, looking at the small, acid-green apples growing there amongst the fertile leaves, marveling at what he must have loved so much also.

I had the pleasure of caring for an acre of his favorite plants near the Rational Island warehouse one summer: mugwort, larkspur, sunflowers, herbs, morning glories, poppies, cowslip, black-eyed susans, tall betsys.

He had a vegetable garden: beets, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, beans, tomatoes, sunflowers, pumpkins. I think he took comfort in growing things in soil-for reminders of basic things, I believe.

I came to know him intimately in the many hours I spent in that field. I nurtured the garden as my own child. I knew it gave him peace of mind that someone was taking care of this piece of the world. It was my way of caring about him. In retrospect, it also helped me to care about many things, including myself. I rekindled my own sense of passion in that field. And I'm sure he knew.

He and I enjoyed making arrangements from the flowers grown at Personal Counselors. We once walked in the garden together, picking

flowers in the hot August afternoon, a special time of year in Seattle. This is a moment I will hold close forever.

Once when I was pulling dandelions from the grass in the park-like median across the street from Personal Counselors, I paused under the hot July sun to catch my breath. Leaning on my weeding stick, I sensed I was not alone and glanced briefly up at Harvey's office in the belfry to find him benevolently watching over me. A moment of great reassurance.

Harvey also knew how to make things from scratch. Under his subtle tutelage I began to understand my own ability to work hard and use my hands. He would ask me to do him "small favors" and give me little jobs like fixing a broken toilet seat. And he would praise me, thank me profusely, and marvel at my obvious pleasure at figuring out how to get this daunting (to me) task figured out. He once said to my counselor, "Be impatient with his distress but never be disgusted with him." I thrived in his vicinity.

Many things became possible for me as a result of being around him. He helped me understand that my sense of hopeless struggle for the rest of my life was poppycock.* He gave me my life back.

And he showed me how in practical terms. He understood and appreciated the necessity of beauty and order and rigor. Every Tuesday morning at Personal Counselors we would vacuum and then wash and shine the floors on our hands and knees with bowls of soapy water. We would use rags that most people would deem useless. They worked perfectly for our purposes, and we would wash, fold, and re-use them every week. My first task at Personal Counselors was to get on my hands and knees and scrub a bathroom floor after arriving late the night before from the east coast. I could never have guessed I would find such satisfaction in this Cinderella introduction.

In time I came to appreciate Harvey's insistence on rigor and not cutting corners. He insisted that any task be approached with a commitment to doing it completely, correctly, and never leaving a mess for others to clean up. He practiced what he preached. As I scrubbed floors that were probably clean enough already to eat off, I came to understand that his work ethic was a good way to live my whole life: Clean out the dirt/distress in every visible and unseen corner so that I can start every day with a clean slate, pleased with myself, and end each day feeling great accomplishment.

In my mind I began to imagine two columns: the one full of failures began to fade as I racked up everyday successes. For the first time in a long time I felt a deep sense of real accomplishment and pride.

I began to discharge away loads of shame with his assistance.

Once as he sat with me while I discharged, I realized that my life working in the garden, scrubbing floors and sinks, and fixing toilet seats was as fulfilling and gave me as much pride as playing principal horn in Capriccio Espagnole on the stage of Carnegie Hall. He beamed at me as I cried my heart out.

That summer I slept soundly every night. I often awoke in the morning with a wondrous anticipation of the day's events. I hadn't felt that way in years.

And he noticed everything. I would sweep the front stoop every morning before work-and he would appreciate me, though I don't believe he ever saw me do this. He just knew. Once when I was weeding the cracks in the sidewalk, he strolled by and chortled with great satisfaction, "Ah, finally someone who understands doing a job the right way." When I had finished the task, I knew what he meant and I appreciated his making a point to make sure I knew he noticed.

Every weed I pulled was also my way of loving him. Sometimes I would cry as I scraped my knuckles on the sidewalk-not because it hurt, but because I was doing something I could tell made a real difference. And I cried because I knew it mattered to him, and I just loved him so much.

I can't look at sidewalks anymore and not notice whether or not they are cleaned and maintained. He lives on with me in many ways.

Harvey knew how to love people in a way that would move them through their distresses. With me, he always held the highest expectations and loved me in the tenderest of ways. He seemed to understand that I also needed to love him with all my heart-that I needed a place to hope and care with abandon. He never once flinched from my love and devotion. He welcomed me with open arms from the moment we met.

Harvey always followed through with his commitments. He was committed to me for years-helping me through many dark periods. I think he may have asked me to come be around him at Personal Counselors because he knew he was dying and wanted to finish our work together. I struggled through difficult times in the last year of his life. Only recently have I reclaimed big pieces of myself through discharging as a result of his death. A bittersweet victory. I miss him every day, and I wish that he was alive for this moment, but I truly believe he knew I would succeed.

He always believed in me. He saved my life.

I will love you forever, my friend.

Mike Ishii
Brooklyn, New York, USA


Last modified: 2016-09-01 08:17:08-07