My big brother, Kevin, was born forty-one years ago today. He passed away nearly twenty years ago. I've thought about him often over the course of those two decades. I've thought about who he was, and the impact that he had, and continues to have, on those who knew him. I've thought about the time that I spent with him, and I've thought about the times that I missed out on his company, even though it was right there waiting for me.
I was eighteen years old when he died. At that point in my life, I didn't have a healthy appreciation for the impermanence of everything and everybody around me. I didn't have an appreciation for my own impermanence. So I took people for granted. I took time for granted. But in a sense, that also helped me get the most out of some of the experiences that I did have with him.
During childhood and adolescence, I was totally caught up in the immediacy of whatever thoughts and feelings I was experiencing at any given moment. I wasn't concerned with the "big picture" of life. Life was what was going on right then and there. And that helped me see Kevin in ways that I'm not sure I'd have been able to see him, had I known him as an adult. Had I seen him in the context of our mutual mortality, I might have missed some of the more subtle, and most valuable, experiences that we shared.
Kevin was born with cerebral palsy. He wasn't expected to live long enough to leave the hospital. But he not only left the hospital, he lived another twenty-one years. And to this day I can't say that I've known a happier person.
Outside of the house, Kevin was usually in a wheelchair. That wheelchair took him to school and church. It took him to Easter Seals Camp and to the park. And when he went to those places he infected everybody around him with his smile and with his voice. He sang loud and often, regardless of where he was. Propriety was never a concern of his. But at home, he was rarely in the wheelchair. At home, he was usually on a thin mat or beach towel, on the floor.
I remember laying down next to him on innumerable occasions. Sometimes we'd be the only two people in the room. A television or radio might be on, but we were otherwise alone. And I'd lay on the floor with him. Two little boys. Two brothers. And I'd look at him, and he'd look back. But he looked back in a way that nobody else did. He looked at me in a way that nobody else did. It seemed like he was completely free of any consideration of himself. He just soaked up my every movement. Every facial expression, every word spoken, every inflection in my voice. It felt like all of that was being taken in. And in turn I looked at him differently. He wasn't like everybody else. He seemed to be more. When I think about those moments now, I can't help but wonder. I wonder if I can find that place that he was in.
The father of three of my cousins passed away yesterday. And on that topic, my cousin Katrina posted this on her Facebook page this morning: "My Dad lost his battle with Pancreatic Cancer yesterday. Everyone keeps asking how I'm doing... Here's what I want to share; I'm okay. I was so blessed to get to spend time with him just last week. While the battle was long and full of highs and lows... It allowed me extra time to pay closer attention to things like, the way his beard felt when he kissed me on the cheek, Or the expression on his face when he told a story that he wanted to get just right. I'm thankful for the time I got to spend and that I was able to have a few more memories to cherish."
I read those words, and it reminded me of Kevin. It reminded me of those days from my childhood when I could recognize his ability to see other people. To see them without a filter. To see them with curiosity and compassion, rather than with judgement or frustration. To see them without his outward vision being tethered to his vision of himself.
And I've spent most of today with those thoughts. Thoughts of others and how I relate to them. Thoughts that are at times fragmented and uneasy. And at other times warm and reassuring. And I haven't come to any grand conclusions. I've had no epiphany. I'm just sitting here in front of my computer. Drinking too much coffee. As lost as ever. Trying to make sense of a world and a life that seems so overwhelming at times. But grateful nonetheless, for those fleeting moments of clarity that I receive from others, during those brief moments that I'm able to see what is right in front of me.
Happy Birthday Kevin.