My brother died in September of 2009 after a two-year battle with cancer. He was simple in his outlook on life; never needing to impress anyone. He loved football, over indulged when it came to eating, collected pocket knives and had a love for scary movies. He was more inclined to do for others than for himself; like cutting his grass, as well as my sister and my mother’s twice a week… in addition to taking care of any repairs on all three houses. He never wanted to rock the boat, just keep it sound and steady and had a tendency to worry when things went adrift.
We were never close but were brothers all the same, having blood as well as psychological connections growing up in a home without a father, who died when we were both young. Then my brothers’ simple world rocked to pieces by one big wave a year after his retirement… cancer and the slow fading that comes when the disease is terminal.
Flying home for the funeral, I asked myself for what purpose was all this; what are the lessons to learn in a life lived that comes to such an end? One belief common to religious faith is that we are called to overcome our imperfections in life until we are complete. So what were my brother’s redeemable deficiencies? I received a clue to my question after reading the eulogy of which my sister wrote, “Don was patient with everyone but impatient with himself”. Like a spark of light in a dark tunnel, I finally knew he had learned the art of patience… from the inside, a patience that is pure and does not come from the ego.
You see my brother spent the last two years of his life going from doctor to doctor and the entire medical circus that encompasses. He learned patients with himself in the midst of his pain. He grew forgiving of doctors and nurses and even chastising others who were impatient for answers about his condition. But it doesn’t end there for patience evolves into loving kindness, gratitude, and compassion… witnessed firsthand on that last day when he seemed not to want to pass on until he knew others were ok with him leaving. Again to suffer pain while being patient waiting for others to accept what he had already accepted.
This is transcendence at its finest, the kind you can’t learn in church or by reading sacred text from a book. Sure that instruction may help but it only shows the way, like a finger pointing at the moon. When it is normal, when it is unquestionably a part of yourself that you can’t even describe its knowing or not knowing, then you behold an enlightened man who will never admit illumination has visited because it is so natural. As a man who sees with his heart before the mind can ever enter the room.
The outcome of all of this was my tears. I cried for him, for myself, my family. I cried for all lost loved ones, for all the things I could have done differently but didn’t. They say to embrace death is to live wisely, to the fullest of what’s expected of each of us on our prospective path. My question is, “what is expected of me? What is my lesson? Where is my compass, what life am I living to its fullest capacity?” I ask these things in a questioning prayer. I know that the answers will eventually come and I may still never know for answers often travel light as the wind, subtle, without fanfare bringing more questions. Maybe all I know is that I do not know and this is a good place for me to start.