Today I mourn Michael Bjerknes, my friend, confidante, business associate, compatriot, and soulmate. He died Monday of colon cancer. He was only 51.
Michael was a giant of a man and of life. I've never known anyone with such a perfectly bifurcated brain. Half was devoted to the arts; from his early teens, he was an avid ballet dancer and served as the principal dancer in the Joffrey Ballet, among other companies. Agnes de Mille even choreographed a part for him!
The other half was pure business and technology. After retiring as a professional dancer, he earned his MBA from the University of Maryland and went to work as a business consultant. That's when I met him. I got a call from his boss to come in and talk about doing marketing for the small technology company for which he was working. He and I instantly connected - and were in complete agreement that his boss was a consummate idiot. We were wonderful pals ever after.
When that unfortunate venture inevitably went south, Michael partnered with his wife, Pam (also a retired professional ballerina), and founded the American Dance Institute. He called me as soon as they got started and asked me to build a brand. He gave me free reign and all his confidence. To date, it is still one of my favorite logos. Michael obtained a long-term lease on a building in Rockville and built an entire studio based on the periwinkle ribbon in the logo. It is one gorgeous building for a terrific staff that teaches dance and Pilates to dozens of children and adults alike.
Michael and I remained friends throughout. He was always a long-suffering business coach and offered cogent, free advice about how I should best run my business. We'd regularly meet for breakfast to discuss business, life, and love. He always had a patient ear and a kind heart.
When I left my husband and my life started to tilt, he understood. By that point, he was ill and had some perspective on his plight, I think. He told me that in all the time he'd known me, I'd always looked for validation from the outside. When we first met, I sought approval through money and success. Then I had the weight loss surgery and looked for validation from men. He challenged me to validate myself from within and to accept what he knew all along: that I was terrific just as I was.
I will never forget this.
Nor will I forget the companion conversation Michael and I had the last time I saw him in February. Wheelchair bound, he questioned who he really was since he was no longer the strapping, 6-foot-four dancer of his youth. If he'd lived his life through his body, who was he now that his body had deserted him? His sister had tried to reassure him that as long as he had his brain, he would still be himself. But I saw this differently. To me, Michael was Michael because of his esse, his soul, his being. You can't take those things away from him. His body is gone, and that magnificent brain has passed. But Michael will always be Michael. He lives on within me, giving me the approval I so badly need. How ironic.
My world is a sadder, smaller place today. But as I told him 400 times in the past few months, I love Michael Bjerknes. What a giant among men. What a blessing to have known him.