"From Moshe till Moshe, there arose none like Moshe." (famous Jewish folk saying)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

To Honor the Memory of Mikey Butler, A year ago this week

I was in the Segula band that played for the Central East Region of NCSY from 1986-1988. We were in Pittsburgh, PA for a shabbaton in 1987 and truthfully there is not much about the shabbaton that I remember. What I do remember is a gentleman coming over to me on shabbos to ask me if his son could sit in for our drummer on Motzei Shabbos. It is something that every bandleader expects will happen and something that every bandleader usually regrets he let happen. But we were a nice college NCSY band and we usually gave in to these request. So motzei shabbos came along and this little pisher of a kid came and sat in for our drummer. The difference this time however was that this kid was good. He was not only good, he was great. It’s not that he was only great, he was 8 years old!! I remember getting off the stage to watch him play. (I remember it was a very small stage) His father began telling me that his son had sat in for some big time drummers, raving like any proud father would. Shalom Aleychim, My name is Danny Butler, that is my son Mikey.

Almost 10 years later, after graduating college, leaving the band, and the health care industry, I became the Regional Director of New England NCSY.

At my second National Convention, A young man came over to me that I had not seen in years. His name was Rafi Estrin. I had known Rafi as a little boy in Providence, RI where he lived when I was in Yeshiva. During my years in Providence, I had developed a special relationship with this little boy and his family. We used to call him spitchekup, which literally means pointy-head! When his family moved to Pittsburgh we lost touch. I was so happy to see him and to learn that he was working with NCSY and making such an impression on so many NCSYers in the Central East region. At the shabbaton he introduced me to his friend, Mikey Butler.

I’m not sure when it was that I developed a relationship with Danny. Enough of a relationship that when I asked him to come to New England and speak for us at a shabbaton, he agreed. During my tenure, he spoke for us twice. Those were unforgettable events. At one event, he mentioned to me that our band had, “major suckage problems.” I’ll never forget how he changed that adjective into a verb. It was only a short time later that Mikey began as the drummer for NER.

Mikey was a great drummer. Everyone knows that. What people may not have known was that he never accepted payment for any jobs. Not one. I tried to pay him several times but he would never accept it. Mikey did more than play drums for us. He was also an advisor who gave sessions, optional sessions and spoke at length with our kids. When I needed a nap, he was still going strong.

Mikey gave kids chizuk and he taught them perspective. I still don’t know if kids really understood how sick Mikey was. All those times, playing drums with the O2 tank by his side. I don’t know if anyone really appreciated what the prognosis is for someone with CF. You certainly could not tell from Mikey. Or maybe he just gave you hope otherwise.

Once when we had a last minute cancellation and we needed a guest speaker, Mikey filled in. Mikey spoke in part, about our friend Rafi who had recently passed away from CF. If I close my eyes, I can still hear that subtle pause to emphasize a point, that drop in his voice to capture a moment and the anguish I felt when he would cough and clear his throat. (Hearing a CF cough can take your breath away) Mikey was captivating, he was funny he was inspiring, he was just 20. He never gave any indication to the NCSYers that he knew he was destined to the same fate as his friend Rafi. Mikey was not looking for pity from these kids. But, he must have known. He was a smart kid. So how did he do it? How did he continue day after day, day after glorious day with such a positive attitude?

I remember when I first learned that he took up to 70 doses of pills each day. When you take 2 Advil for a headache, it is hard to imagine what 70 doses of medications looks like. When he stayed in our home in Brookline, I remember going into the guest room and seeing these huge containers of pills. They were like industrial size jugs that he had to lug around with him from place to place. 70 doses are still hard to imagine.

Mikey took these incredible challenges with him where ever he went. His oxygen, his pills, his lungs, Mikey could not escape this reality. But Mikey understood his reality.
Mikey taught me/us that you don’t have to accept the inevitable. You can embrace the inevitable. HaShem has given us all strengths and limitations. We each have the opportunity to take our limitations and make them our strengths.

People greater than I have waxed philosophical about Mikey’s life and the impact of his death. All I can do is remember a kid, whose spirit inspired others. Whose infectious rhythm and passion for life penetrated the depths of our hearts and gave hope to so many. I’ll always remember a kid who on the surface seemed less fortunate than I, yet sometimes I wish that I could have just a portion of his faith, his courage and his will.

May his memory be for a blessing and may the merit of all those people he inspired and whose spirits he lifted in his short meaningful life give an aliyah to his neshomoh.

all i can say is wow, i wish i knew him better.

ari i think you need to work on your years a little better, they dont make sense. KN
Thanks Tonny, I fixed the dates. DM
for you ari, anything. KN
Mikey's stories are never ending, and pop up everwhere one looks. I hope we have the strength not just to inspire others with stories of Mikey, but learn to live like he did and inspire others with our own strengths.
Hey Ari - i never remember you playing any instruments when I was around... ? Ra'anan S.
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