Thursday, January 3, 2013

What My Brother's Life is Teaching Me

As many of you know, my beloved younger brother passed away suddenly the end of November. And while I was given the option of speaking at his service, I felt that I wouldn't be able to handle it. And I was probably right. But that's okay, because what I had to say needed some gestating, and I think it's best shared with all of you, not only those who knew him. Because we're all connected, and the value of John's life belongs to all of us.

My brother teaches me something new every day. About myself. About others. It starts in a small city called Scranton, Pennsylvania, with an insecure little boy who, more than anything, craved to know he was safe, close, and loved. I never could miss that. No one could.

That trait is in all of us. But with John, it was easier to see. He had a vulnerability he could not hide. And that vulnerability made some people uncomfortable...John included. One might think, in knowing him, that John needed people. And of course he did. But the larger truth is, my family and all those who knew him needed him more.

We needed John, not as a reminder, but as a wake up call. We needed his spirit with us--short as his human life was--to point out the obvious: That all the things we consider important, all the petty, material things, all the foolish wastes of time, all the ego-centric fears we give in to and the potential for love we completely miss, they were right in front of us the whole time, either begging to be released or begging to be seen. And we would have missed them, possibly for a lifetime, had my brother, and gentle, sweet-hearted spirits like his, not come to this planet to wake us up, to shake us out of the comfortable, the alienated and the small. To open our eyes completely to the abundance of love left to give and to receive, and the preciousness of each day together, each dream pursued, each "I love you" spoken without reserve.  While the sister in me would give anything to have him back, the spirit in me knows that he never left. And that every time I see someone in need of love, whether it's easy or difficult to give, I will think good and hard before neglecting to do so. It has already changed my behavior (in a tip-of-the-iceberg kind of way).

Nobody has to tell me now that life is short, that it's unpredictable, that there's no room for procrastination when it comes to going after those things that we're most passionate about. Not that it's easy--God help me--because it's not. But when I think of giving up now, a part of me yells, "No, you don't! You promised John you'd do your best, even if you fail over and over again. Don't you dare give up. He's not giving up on you, so don't you give up on yourself."

John's life has made me reconsider my motivations, as well. It's made me look, hard, in the mirror and reevaluate the path  and root of my own happiness. It's made me ask (and answer) questions like: Am I living my life, accomplishing things, striving for goals in an effort to seek acceptance? What does make me happy? What really matters? What will matter thirty years from now? And the truth is, some of those answers have surprised me. And some of them have changed. I was already in the throes of transition before John passed away, but now it's another level altogether. The things I'd have considered less significant before, the way I viewed people once, appear more flawed now. Some of the deeper reasons behind my pursuits erupted as out of sync with my ultimate, highest, best form of happiness. Was I striving for certain things simply to please others? To win an acknowledgment that traveled as far back as birth? It seems so. Have I re-envisioned what I actually want...sans so much pomp and circumstance and plus a simpler vision? Absolutely. The giant beach house and movie star husband and more money than I can spend, all of that is ridiculous, really. Give me a cottage in the forest with a good man and maybe a kid and a dog and manuscript to edit and my own hours, my own schedule. Freedom to live and love as it best fits me. Those are my dreams now. And anything else is icing on the cake. I just want to be happy--forget anything else. Thanks to my John, I understand that I have no one else to impress, no one else to please if I cannot do the same for myself, first.  And that there is love tucked away in every corner, to reveal and to let in, if only we would see it. If only we would wake up. Open our eyes. Understand the possibilities.

How could I possibly feel otherwise?

John's life---it's a million times more than his death. It's unthinkable in its worth and one day, when I embrace his light and his spirit again---I'll know the full fathoming of that story, of that gift on this earth. For now, though, the best way I know how to honor his precious human existence is to honor my own with hopefulness and determination, and to keep my heart open to those who would most need my love.

I'll be unraveling the treasure of John's life here for the rest of my own. May I do it justice and reflect his spirit well. I pray this for all of us.

Peace, and above all, shameless amounts of love,


Sarah said...

Thank you for sharing your brother with us. I obviously never knew him, but he's continuing to touch lives through your reflections. Thanks for the reminders we all need to hear. Hope we're listening.

Feather Stone said...

Your message is so very clear and passionate. I understand every word as I've gone through a similar awakening. The truth is we often need to be reminded, reawakened, jolted out of the traps we fall into. Thank you for the reminder, Jen.

Jen said...

Thanks for taking the time to read, ladies. And you know, I hear all the time that we tend to learn best through pain, as humans. We don't HAVE to learn that way, but it's the path most of us know. Someday, I hope we get to a place where pain is no longer necessary on this planet.


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