by Jack McLean
Michel Morisset of Gatineau, Québec was friend to many Bahá’ís, myself included, for almost 30 years. I say friend. But with passing time, although much of it was spent apart, Michel grew to be as close to me as my own brother. When he died of cancer on December 15, 2003, we came to realise more fully what an extraordinary gift Michel’s life had been to all those who had known and loved him. It’s the old story. We realise the true worth of our friends and loved ones only after they are gone. It was my privilege to have been able to visit Michel, with a few other close friends, first at the Gatineau Hospital, where his cancer was initially detected, and then for some few weeks at the Mathieu-Froment Hospice in Aylmer where he died peacefully in the early hours of the morning of December 15, 2003.
Many profound lessons are tied to Michel’s life and death. He wanted to write a book about a Bahá’í whose lot in life is to be afflicted with schizophrenia and Tourette’s Syndrome. Unfortunately this project was cut very short. But the book had already been written. That book was the book of Michel’s life with its story of the exemplary way he faced his illnesses. Let me quote one of the health care workers who attended to Michel over the years, first at the Pierre Janet Psychiatric Hospital in Hull, and later at the Gatineau Hospital. Her testimony at his funeral was sincere, eloquent and straight from the heart: “Michel had schizophrenia,” she said, “but I never met someone who was so well. Visits with him uplifted the soul….I have lost my ray of sunshine.”
Through Michel’s example, I came to realise, more deeply than ever, how God compensates in unique ways all afflicted souls, whether that suffering be mental or physical. To speak of a spiritual affliction, except for the diseased soul, is almost an oxymoron. The spiritual soul is always well. Michel was mysteriously compensated for the great suffering that he had to endure during his earthly existence. And it is a tribute to his magnanimity that I never heard him once complain of his suffering. Throughout all the psychological torture, the nightmarish visions, the jeering voices in his head, the mental delusions, he remained calm, peaceful and centred. At the centre he was well. He knew it and it showed. Others felt it. As the medications improved over the years, his suffering thankfully was somewhat diminished.
In our first telephone conversation after he had been admitted to hospital, he said to me in a moment when I wanted to commiserate with him about his mental afflictions: “I didn’t really suffer. It was not that hard. What was hard was not to have had a life like other people.” Later, I thought more about it. No regular job. No marriage. No children. No wealth. No status in society. No predictability in his life. All the things that the world aspires to and counts as badges of honour and respect. But although Michel had none of these things, he was not in the least diminished by their absence. For ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was his friend and companion.
This leads me to another of the great gifts that Bahá’u’lláh granted Michel — his great love for the Three Central Figures of the Faith. The Báb, Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá remained close to him throughout his life and guided him on his way, appearing to him over the years in several remarkable dreams. In one of them, the Báb was clearing a path for him through the forest where he had pioneered near Maniwaki, Québec under very harsh conditions. As He worked, the Báb said: “Some day you are going to be a very good man.” I intimated to Michel that he was already good and that the goodness that the Báb referred to meant that one day he would be sound, whole and completely well. He concurred. That day has now come.
For those with eyes to see, they sensed an unshakeable steadfastness, a faith rock-solid. It was never spoken of, but it was there. Something else could be found in him, a quality that is not seen as often as it should be these days. He had a profound respect for and trust in the Institutions of the Bahá’í Faith. Barely ten days before Michel died, he sought the counsel of the National Spiritual Assembly on the attitude that he should adopt as a Bahá’í facing a terminal illness. The NSA responded quickly under the circumstances, and their message of love and hope was no doubt a consolation.
But his great love was for teaching. Teaching the Faith was the one burning and constant desire in his life; that all should know of this Most Great Cause. So there in his hospital room the stately portrait of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was hung for all to see. And a staff that was too discrete to ask found out because they could not resist. They could not resist the power of the Faith; they could not resist the majesty of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; they could not resist Michel. When he was asked what favourite prayers his friends could recite for him, he said simply and directly: “Don’t pray for me. Pray for teaching.” His brother Jean finally asked as Michel lay dying: “So what is this Bahá’í Faith?” Jean knew that the Power that brought such loving friends to his bedside day after day, and who had been his friends for so many years, must be worthy of attention.
There are a few other things that should be mentioned, things that make up a life. I would be remiss if I did not mention his consoling love of nature. Already in Grade 6, as a school boy in Gatineau, Michel wrote a lovely little composition called “Les Signes du Printemps” (The Signs of Spring). His perceptiveness, delicacy and poetic heart were in full evidence even then as he wrote beautifully of how the pale death of the frozen winter was each year transformed into new life, with the resurrection of the coming Spring. He wrote of how he loved the wind to caress his face, creating the joy of a child, and many other sweet things of nature’s returning wonders.
Tall and fair, women loved his company because he was charming and handsome, even when long years of illness had ravaged his body. He loved the innocence and purity of babies and children. Conversation with him was always rewarded with some new insight. Michel was a great wit and over the years we rollicked with laughter as we savoured another of his lightening fast puns.
One of the great blessings of Michel’s illness was that the Bahá’í friends came to know for the first time Michel’s own wonderful family — his venerable father Maurice, his loving mother Madeleine, his fine brothers Jean and Philippe, his caring sisters Céline and Suzanne. We came to realise, as each in turn shared visits with Michel, that we truly are one family and that love is the One Great Unifier of the children of God.
Finally, even though I did not ask him, Michel knew that I wanted a sign after his passing. And so he came to me in a dream. And what I saw then I cannot easily describe in words. But it was a spiritual body of fine crystal, purified and free from any defect, transparent so as to reflect the dazzling but benign Light of the Spirit. Within that body I saw a transparent heart. Etched in the glass-like substance, ever so delicately, were a few blood-red veins. Symbols to be sure so that one like me, still here on earth, could understand. I realised that Michel lives now in a state of purification and grace so as to reflect the Light of God wherever it may shine.