|The following tributes were presented at Michael's celebration service on 15 November 2002.|
|From Chris Danckwerts, Michael's father:
We are here to celebrate the life of Michael. It was a full life and there are many things to celebrate. I can only try here to do justice to a few of them.
We celebrate, first and foremost, his great spirit of adventure. This spirit took him to many places, both geographical and spiritual. He was never someone who could be contained for very long at a time. He explored so many avenues of the mind and body, tried so many different things, fell down so many times, but always picked himself up uncomplainingly to move on to the next adventure. He never sought the safe options and took enormous risks on many occasions. So often his carefree attitude spilled over into rashness, much to the despair of others, but that was his style. He had a favourite saying which he used to try to stir up his stodgy parents: Do something scary at least once a day. He certainly did, and he often scared us!
We celebrate his multiple talents, in that so many things came so easily to him: his abilities in sport when he was young, his range of musical expression, his writing, his ability to relate so naturally to everyone he met, and many other talents that made so many things seem to come so easily. He even persuaded the authorities in Taiwan last year that he was a qualified English teacher - and then became a much loved teacher of young children in one of their schools. Above and beyond all of these, however, it is his talent as a photographer that will live on longest. You see around you and in your hands just a small sample of his marvelous ability to capture on film the world as seen through his eyes.
We celebrate his great integrity, his sense of commitment and his abundant spirit of goodwill. He sought the truth in all his enterprises. He strove for fulfillment in his spiritual pathways. On the personal side, his bubbling cheerfulness, engaging manner, positive outlook and great good humour infected all who came into contact with him. He left many friends around the world. Because of their geographical dispersion many of these people are unable to be here with us on this occasion, but will always remember him with great love, and some have sent special messages for this ceremony.
We celebrate his inquiring mind. Although highly intelligent he was not a conventional scholar and only just scraped into university at Newcastle. There he quickly abandoned any thoughts of studying for a vocation and pursued instead his great love of ideas and ideals and the history and philosophy of ancient cultures. He never completed a degree but studied such subjects as philosophy (especially ethics), sociology, anthropology and Sanskrit, the last under his great mentor, the late Professor Godfrey Tanner who inspired him to take his spirit of inquiry out into the wider world.
We celebrate his restless sense of exploration. His travels took him to many parts of Australia, then over the last 16 months through India, from the northern mountains to the far south, to Taiwan, Cambodia, Thailand, back to India, to Nepal, and finally to India again for the last time.
Finally, we celebrate his spiritual odyssey. He read widely in such fields as comparative religion, Buddhism, yoga and related subjects beyond my ability to categorise, and left behind many books on these subjects. He was well advanced in the practice of yoga and meditation. His final journey took him to the International yoga school at Pondicherry in India where he was just three weeks into a six month yoga teachers course before his life’s adventure came to an end. This course was something he had worked towards for over a year. We are pleased that the ashram is represented here today by Murali who conveys the blessings of those who were with Michael when he started the course.
These few words can only begin to convey to you something of Michael’s restless spirit and boundless enthusiasm for all aspects of life. When we look back over the things he did, the places he went to, the adventures he undertook, we can only marvel at his range of aspirations and his sense of absolute freedom. He left behind few material possessions as his backpacker lifestyle made for a frugal existence, but those things that he did leave behind, particularly the photographs, will remain with us for ever to remind us of who and what he was.
A web site will be established as a memorial which will be accessible to the world. It will display a selection of images of Michael as we saw him and of the world as he saw it.
Goodbye, Michael. Our love will always be with you. We shall never forget your great spirit. We shall miss you dreadfully, as will many, many others, but we can all say from the bottom of our hearts that it was great having you with us.
From Peter Danckwerts, Michael's brother:
My first memories of Mikey are my first memories of life. I can so easily remember the years we spent sharing a room – talking about everything and anything, growing together as we tried to make sense of the world around us. During the day, I would save up questions to ask him, and at night he would answer them patiently and considerately. We would stay up for hours, listening for the footsteps of mum or dad so we could pretend to be asleep. Mike was my ultimate authority – anything he said I took for gospel. I’m sure half of what he told me he made up on the spot – but it always satisfied me. He would also tell me stories, making them up as he went, and always included whatever creature or subject I was interested in at the time. Together we plotted fantastic revenges on teachers, or far fetched plans to run away and live on a boat, catching fish and being happy.
And Mike was one of those rare people who never lost that boyish wide-eyed wonder of the world. He would trust people implicitly – sometimes to his detriment – but Mike never ever lost that belief in the good of people. Greed, anger, and hate – these were such totally foreign emotions to Mike that he could never see them in other people.
Mike had such a spontaneous generosity and love. Once, we were chatting on the phone and I mentioned how we were a little strapped for cash that month while we saved for our trip. The very next day, he was on our doorstep as we came home from work, with 4 big bags of fresh groceries and large amounts of his fantastic home-made hommous.
Another time we were talking when I mentioned I was missing my dog. Within a few days he had taken a fantastic picture, had it enlarged and framed, and dropped it off to me.
Krissy and I were so lucky to have spent some time with Mike in Cambodia, earlier this year. It was such a joyous reunion after a year apart, with the ruins of Angkor Wat providing an amazing backdrop. And he was still the big brother, looking out for me. When I expressed a slight hesitation in piloting a clapped-out old scooter through the chaotic streets of Siem Riep, he said “No worries!”, and piled me and Krissy on to the back of his. I’m sure the locals are still laughing and shaking their heads at the sight of three large white folk weaving through the streets on a scooter designed for one small Cambodian.
He had some good laughs at my expense too. The very next day he offered to give me a motorbike lesson, so we would be a bit more comfortable on two scooters. After dropping me off at the shop, this lesson consisted of Mike patting me on the back, and yelling over his shoulder as he sped off “you’ll be right – just remember to lean into the corners.”
Mike simply loved traveling. I’m convinced he found true happiness in the last couple of years, with just a backpack and camera and no restrictions. Mikes first love, like mine, was always India. I’d like to finish by reading some passages of an email he wrote only a few months ago, entitled A day in India.
(The text of "A Day in India" is in the August 2002 page of this web site).
From Laura Danckwerts, Michael's aunt:
The feeling here today for Michael is that of a great deal of love.
We all have treasured memories of him, different for each one of us, and collectively they represent the multiple features of the essential Michael, like a many-faceted jewel.
My memories of Michael, as his aunt, stretch back to when he was tiny, and always I have been happy to be in his company. Michael was a life-enhancer, someone who made other people feel good, and lived life to the full in his own idiosyncratic way. I think that for a long time, Michael has been on a special and unusual journey of the spirit. He embraced unusual activities such as his study of Sanskrit and his work with disabled people, helping them integrate into the community.
Michael’s interests in yoga and Buddhism have led me to do some re-reading on these subjects in the past few days. There are two things that seem particularly relevant.
This is the first one. “In traditional Buddhist texts, loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity are called the divine abodes of the mind”. This seems to reflect the direction of Michael’s journey.
This is the second one. “Life is a miracle to be celebrated every moment.” This is how Michael was living his life.
I want to end by saying, simply, “Michael, I’m so very lucky to have known you.”
Robert Carter, Michael's uncle, did not speak from a prepared text. He spoke from the heart.
Simon Cook, a long standing friend of Michael's from their time together at high school, also spoke in tribute.
From Annette Danckwerts, Michael's mother:
I’m going to read some of Michael’s last thoughts, taken from his notes:
Listen, especially when it seems wrong, because what we’ve been missing in life will appear at first to be wrong.
A request is actually a statement of lack, and saying that you want something only produces the reality of “wanting”. Correct prayer is therefore appreciation.
Doubting ultimate outcome creates the primal fear.
Life is not a process of discovery but of creation. Seek therefore not who you are but what you want to be.
Life is an opportunity to know experientally what you already know conceptually. You can know yourself to be kind, but unless you do someone a kindness you have nothing but an idea about yourself. Until concept becomes experience, all there is is speculation.
I’m now going to read some passages from the Bhagavad-Gita. These words are to me a search for purity of spirit and to seek a oneness with God:
He whose mind is untroubled in the midst of sorrows and is free from eager desire amidst pleasures, he from whom passion, fear and rage have passed away, he is called a sage of settled intelligence.
He who is without attachment on any side, who does not rejoice or loathe as he obtains good or evil, his intelligence is firmly set in wisdom.
Having brought all the senses under control he should remain firm in Yoga intent on Me; for him whose senses are under control his intelligence is firmly set.
When a man dwells in his mind on the objects of sense, attachment to them is produced. From attachment springs desire, and from unfulfilled desire comes anger.
From anger arises bewilderment, from bewilderment loss of memory, from loss of memory the destruction of intelligence, and from the destruction of intelligence he perishes.
But a man of disciplined mind who moves among the objects of sense, with the senses under control and free from attachment and aversion, he attains purity of spirit.
And in that purity of spirit there is produced for him an end of all sorrow; the intelligence of such a man of pure spirit is soon established in the peace of the self.
I realize now that Michael was my teacher, not just in material things such as growing herbs and cooking spicy foods, but in my spiritual path.
I am so honoured to be his mother.
Thank you all for being here with us. We are all united in our love for Michael.
Finally, Kristina Remers, Peter's partner, read out these tributes from overseas friends which were received in time for this occasion:
From Fil Young, an old family friend, living in Canada:
It has been my privilege to have known Michael throughout his life. His outgoing, generous and fun loving nature always drew people to him .
I remember his infectious smile from the time I pushed his stroller on Glebe Point Road. There were so many admiring comments that I found it easy to accept the credit. This smile belonged to someone who enjoyed life,whether he was just finishing the "City to Surf" or had made a winning tennis shot. He was an optimist with a zest for living
Michael was a caring person with a natural empathy for others. My son reminded me of a time 10 years ago, when Michael and Peter were looking after him, a highlight of the visit. Michael invited him to a secret ceremonial downing of the cola if he could appear at midnight. Needless to say he managed the meeting. His admiration for Michael continues to this day and he, like the rest of our family, have been stunned by the tragedy of his death.
Over the years one of the most pleasant things during my visits was seeing Michael and hearing him describe some of his experiences. I am thankful for those times and wish they they could have continued. Michael will be greatly missed
From Liz, a friend Michael met in Thailand in June 2002:
My dear Michael,
Our spiritual paths were almost the same. Only you had gotten so much further than me already. I admire you, Michael. I never told you this but you are an example to me. I secretly saw you as my spiritual teacher. You brought a lot of wisdom into my life. But even more than wisdom did you bring love, and more than a teacher you were a friend. And yet, although you were wise, it seemed to me you still had a long way to go. Did you really cross so much distance in so little time, Mike? You must have.
Your presence in my story was one of the greatest gifts life could have given me. And although I had the feeling I still had so much to learn from you, maybe this was the best lesson you could have ever given me: that life is not endless, and that therefore we should always enjoy every moment of it, and never look back with regrets. Thank you for teaching me, Michael.
I will always cherish all that you gave me, every moment that we spent together and every word that you spoke. And I hope that we’ll meet again some day, some way.
May you never be forgotten, dear Michael. May you always be love.
“There really is nothing to worry about in life, didn’t you know? Just be happy, work hard, and love everyone.”
-Michael Thomas Danckwerts, 6 Oktober 2002
From Franklin Moore, a friend of Michael's in Taiwan:
I am deeply sorry and saddened by the news. I met Mike in Taiwan in February. We were at a teaching seminar and out of one hundred people, he was the only person who spoke to me. We became instant friends. From the minute I met him all he talked about was India. One weekend, some friends and I were to go away for a weekend but he chose to stay home because he wanted to "dream of India".
When he left Taiwan, the last thing he said to me was that I have to go to India. I know how much it meant to him and I'm glad that he got to return to the place that had a profound impact on his life. I am currently in Thailand and was planning to travel to India within the coming months. We had talked before about meeting somewhere. Now, I'll have to just find his laughter somewhere in the mountains.
He was such a great guy and I send my condolences to you and the rest of your family.
Peace and happiness.
From Jimmy Goodrich, Michael's soul mate on his travels. This is the concluding part of a long letter he sent. The first part can be found in the August 2001 page.
. . . Varanasi was the last place I saw Michael alive. It is a city where death is omnipresent - the ashes of the dead hang over the living city. Michael understood what impermanence meant. It means, very simply, that nothing lasts forever. We had so many discussions, debates, arguments about truth, life, death and reincarnation. None of these ideas means much in the immediate, day-to-day. Except that Michael lived what he thought. . . .that you must live fully, totally, with awareness and with joy right up until you die, whenever and under whatever circumstances that happens.
I want Michael's parents to know that their son died doing exactly what he wanted to be doing. Exploring, seeking, questioning, developing, moving forward. . . living. His life has been unjustly short, but full and pure in a way so many people are inacapable of. He encouraged this boldness in every ne around him. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. I have not gone away unchanged from the experience of knowing your son. Thank you for having him.
Michael, I miss you, and I'm angry that you aren't here and I have to continue my own adventures without you. But I was getting old a little before my time, and you came along and brought the boy back out of me. When you met me my life was in neutral and I felt washed up at the grand old age of 29. With you, I found myself singing ridiculous songs,
laughing at people, swinging on swings, having long-winded discussions about God, the universe and everything. You brought me back to life.
As much as I feel ripped off that you are gone, to know you has been a gift heaped upon from above. I love you. See you next time.
|The following tributes have been received since then.|
|From Sydney friends "Beautiful girl" Marianna Papadakis, Jarrad "Redman" Bingham and Neil Butters:
For a person whose adventurous spirit inspired dreams, whose laughter brought a smile to the faces of others, whose clarity of mind steadied and eased a friend in need, whose lust for life awakened any room, whose enthusiasm drove others to action and whose memory will be forever cherished by all the people whose lives he touched.
From Griselda Thompson, his aunt:
Circumstances prevented us from knowing Michael well, but he was "one of ours", part of the family circle . . . Michael was the one who taught our boys to climb door frames, a skill enthusiastically embraced by local little boys . . . My boys remember Michael from a camping holiday in Dalmeny. They were very impressed by his fleetness of foot and remember him running along the beach on long slender legs with great speed and endurance. Doug remembers him as having a killer instinct at table tennis against him . . . You said (a few months before his death) how happy he was in India and how much he was looking forward to his yoga course. At least he died in the place he wanted to be, doing what he wanted to do . . . I know he was a joy and delight to you, and that joy and delight has gone . . .
From Todd, a friend during Michael's last months in Sydney:
I cant believe Mike is gone. I am sending you guys all my love. Mike was very special to me. he had emailed me on and off while he was traveling. Please thank his mom and dad for raising such a person as Mike with such a givIng heart and love for life .He has touched my heart and changed my life. I remember the walks, talks, debates we had. He was so pure. Thanks.
From Nicole, a friend that Michael met in Nepal:
Mike was a great guy, fond of life, open, nice and almost always in a good mood . . . "I don't care if the sun don't shine . . . " he used to sing in his usually happy mood . . . I can still see him standing in front of me with his hemp pants, a shirt with printings of the Hindu art, with his curly hair and a smile upon his face, especially in his eyes. Just like that I will keep him in my memories, in my heart.
From Harriet, the wife of Fil Young:
Fil has already written a message from the family for Michael’s service, but I also wanted to let you know how very, very sorry I am. Michael was a lovely person. I didn’t know him as well as Fil - most of my memories are from the time we spent in Australia when our children were little. They looked up to both your sons, but Michael was a special hero for James. Not many teenaged boys would have shown such patience with a seven year old and treated him like an equal. Then, of course, there was the time we adults went to the Hunter Valley, and Michael and Peter stayed home to look after James and Alison. We never heard the full details of what went on in our absence, probably wall-to-wall pizza and non-stop videos, but that weekend was the highlight of their stay in Australia. We will all miss Michael, but we will hold on to our happy memories, too.
From Michelle, a friend in Taiwan:
It's too hard to believe this bad news. It's been for a long time since last email I got from him. I usually think of him and imagined he could be learning yoga in somewhere in India.
Today I went to a temple on the top of a tall mountain which we have been there together in summer. It was as beautiful as that day we were there, but he is somewhere in the sky. I reminded a lot of beautiful memories between us there. I wish he would have heard what I'd talked to him.
I wish I could do something for you and your family. I am really sorry that we lost Mike. I'll remember him forever.
From Dominique, a former work colleague of Michael's in Sydney:
Firstly let me send to you my deepest condolences. Pete you are right, for me too it does not seem real. I fear that I missed the chance to have something read at the service you had for Mike.
I have just printed out all the emails I have from him. I thought it would be too much to read them but they made me smile...email is surreal anyway...it was like he was still alive.
I will write some stuff about Mike...perhaps it is not too late for that service..even if it is I want you to know how much I thought of your son/brother. I hope it may comfort you a little, also for me I think I need to say it because I don't have anyone here who knew him (I am in London by the way).
I got to know Mike at Windgap, in Sydney..working with adults with intellectual disabilities. We worked together sometimes at Florence Ave and Gale Rd..must have been 2000. I can remember meeting him for the first time and picking up on his beautiful gentle nature. I used to secretly look forward to working with him because he was so lovely to talk to. I loved his outlook on life...he was right into his buddhist stuff as I am sure you know, yoga as well which was a common interest. I also thought he was cute!
You know when someone dies and everyone says really nice things about them and you wonder sometimes..are they just saying this because they are gone? Well I have with me a diary that I kept at that time and here is some stuff I wrote about him..'Michael is a lovely young man who works there (Florence Ave) and someone who I have felt a connection with since I met him a few months ago....he really is a beautiful person and I am very inspired and influenced by him'
I just assumed we would meet up again, probably overseas. I have been in England since March. He has encouraged me to visit him in India a couple of times which I was hoping to do at some stage. He wrote excellent emails and seemed to be having the time of his life.
I feel I have been honoured to know him, he was an angel.
From Ian and Kamu Canover, who took an ashram course with Michael at Dehra Dun in August 2002: . . . . we will never forget Michael's great smile and his positive attitude to life, you guys can be proud you produced an amazing offspring, we are thankful we had a chance to spend 3.5 weeks together in August 2002 with Michael . . .
From Tang Qi, a Chinese traveller who shared in a boating and rafting trip with Michael and others in Nepal in September 2002: . . . . I'm so sorry for what happened to Michael, one of my best friends. I keep recalling the days we spent together at the small Nepali town near the lake . . . Michael is a great man, he had lived his life colorful, we love him so much and we'll always remember him. May him peace in heaven.
From Swamiji Dharmananda, Michael's yoga teacher in Rishikesh and Dehra Dun, whom his family had the privilege of meeting in Rishikesh in January 2004:
ODE TO MICHAEL
Michael you were indeed
A very pure-hearted soul;
You came to Rishikesh very fondly
To strive to attain the life's goal.
Life is eternal
Bodies come and go;
Wherever you are
You are striving for perfection we know.
Your shining eyes and smiling face
Your cheerful presence it is this;
For a long time in our hearts
This absence we will miss.
Students come and students go
Few indeed are those who know;
A Divine essence through us flow
Whose glory their actions show.
Grieving parents and grieving friends
You have left behind;
In your sacred charms presence however
Peace in our hearts we find.
From Rachel, a friend from Taiwan and Varanasi . . .
Michael was true of heart.
When I was around him, I always believed that life would be 'OK', my cynicism dissolved.
He was warm and sweet and generous and funloving.
He was unforgettable.
I've read all the letters everyone wrote on this website....they all say the same kind of things...... They ARE all true. They are not just said because Michael has left us....they were all said about him, and to him, when he was alive.
He was a beautiful soul...and you could see it in his eyes.
From Simon Grant, a New Zealander whom Michael met in Rishikesh: . . . I knew Michael for about 10 days whilst I stayed in Rishikesh and I remember having quite a few laughs with him . . . he was having a ball in India and receiving a lot from the country and its people. I wish him well in his next life and I am sure he is as happy there as he was in this one.
Remembrance - One Year Later