When I moved to Beijing in the summer of 2010, one of the first people to show me around my new home was a native Texan named Mike Peters.
Mike had helped me get a job at an English-language newspaper where he worked, and by the time I arrived it felt like we were already friends. We shared a small office on the second floor of the China Daily building, where we edited international news for the paper. It was my first editing job, and so I depended a lot on Mike for feedback on headlines and story selection.
Any other person probably would have grown impatient with me, but Mike was always willing to help … and honest when he didn’t agree with a choice I made.
Over the next few years, Mike and I would become good friends. After finishing a late shift at work, we’d often grab beers at a nearby restaurant and chat for hours about life and politics in one of the world’s biggest cities.
When my mother and brother visited Beijing, Mike helped organize a roast lamb dinner with other colleagues so they could meet some of the people we worked with. Anytime I had guests, Mike always met them and, after a cheap beer or two, treated them like old friends.
And, if Mike was reading this, he would probably say: “Jimmy, you’re burying the lede.”
Mike died Wednesday of pancreatic cancer. He was 62.
I found out about his illness in early July. A mutual friend sent me the news in a text: “Devastating news. Mikey Peters has terminal cancer.”
He said the doctor told him he had three to six months to live.
I hesitated to reach out to Mike. What do you say to a person who has terminal cancer?
(“How are you feeling?” Well, awful. Haven’t you heard. I’m dying.)
Everything I thought about saying just seemed disingenuous.
Then, on Aug. 2, Mike sent me a photo from his hospital bed. He was surrounded by smiling coworkers. He looked weak and pale, but still managed to crack a smile.
We exchanged a few messages, and he told me how everyone at the office was preparing food for him. “Only eating hospital food half of the time.”
You are a celebrity my man, I told him.
“Haha,” he responded.
The day before Mike died, I wrote him another message:
“Hey Mike. I just wanted to let you know that I will forever be grateful for the way you welcomed me to Beijing and taught me that Taiwan was indeed a part of China. I was pretty green when I showed up and you made that transition a lot easier. I love you man, and I know a lot of other people do, hence the outpouring of support. I hope you can feel that.”
A few hours after I sent the message, a friend texted me and said Mike had suffered some complications from the cancer and might not make it through the night. He died the next day.
Given the timing, I doubt Mike read the last message I wrote to him. But, judging by all of the people who reached out to him after the cancer diagnosis and donated money toward his medical expenses, I know he felt the support.