My kid brother, John, died yesterday morning. He was 47. I am...bereft. Two brothers gone in less than a year. I'm reminded of a line from the most recent Indiana Jones movie. "We've reached the point where life stops giving us things, and starts taking them away."
The last time I saw John, it wasn't the best of circumstances. I was in handcuffs, on my way to prison. As they put me in the squad car, I caught a glimpse of him, waving at me from a nearby rooftop. He always had the luck of the Irish.
The problem with the luck of the Irish, is that when it runs out, it runs out with a vengeance. He ended up working on a ranch just outside of Kingman, AZ. He'd retreated from a world that he felt had no love for him, and held no place for him. It's easy to empathize. We've all felt it. At some point, or to some degree. It was harder for him, because he was the kind of person that needed to be around people.
Like most people on this planet, my brother lived a life that was hard, brutal, and short. That is unacceptable. For him, and for everyone else.
But it seems we're slowly, inexorably being conditioned not to care. Even to hold with contempt and suspicion anything
different. The problem is, that we're all different. Each one of us something that never was, nor will be again. A hunk of metal as unique as each one of us would be considered priceless. Yet we consistently treat each other like shit. It will lead to a society where even the best of us are considered inherently expendable.
When I was released from prison, my first impulse was to follow my brother into obscurity. It would have been easy. Especially when it seemed that every signal I got from those around me said that I didn't matter. That I was unworthy and had nothing to offer.
There were those who were merely disinterested. I sat across the desks of bureaucrats who just wanted me to go away so they could go on to the next person they didn't care about. Then there were others who viewed me with open contempt (including a couple disturbingly creative death threats via email). My brother, a decidedly more sensitive soul than I, would not have fared well.
In the beginning, I couldn't retreat because I had nowhere to go. But in the end, it was those very people that made me determined to stay. I learned tolerance from those who, for whatever reason, hated me, and kindness from those who were unkind because, oddly, they felt morally justified in being so. (They will have to forgive me if they find that I am ungrateful for those lessons.)
I hold no illusions about my place in this world, or my ability to change it. But...
We all matter.
For the next few months, I will dream of my brother as he was in life, only to wake to feel the sting of his absence. I'm told that this is common in the face of loss. Still, it's liable to make me a tad cranky.
I take some small solace in the fact that, as unique as we are, in the end we are all equal. The rich and poor, good and evil, all of us destined to be crushed under the same great wheel.