Looking Back Forwardly
Two years ago last week, I lost my brother Rob to cancer. Throughout my life he and I were close. He helped shape who I am. We hung out. We were best buds. We raised our kids together. Our families were close. His passing was without a doubt the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with.
Like any tragedy or sadness, I'm doing my best to move ahead. While I miss him every day, when I look back at the last two years, his absence has taught me many things. It's brought clarity to what's important. Some of what I've taken from his passing is shared below.
I have no patience for negativity. Life is just way too short to be around Debbie Downers and people who are constantly negative, pissed off, or complaining. Because you know what? Life is hard sometimes. The problem is, it's hard for everyone at times. So quit your complaining and think about the people living in refugee camps elsewhere in the world. That will put your first-world gripe in its proper place. I'm not saying you have to be sicky-rosy-sweet, but really, think about what your problem is, then zoom out a bit and look at it from a google-earth perspective. Got a problem with politics? Well get in line, it started about 10,000 years ago and they still can't get it right. C'mon, man.
Things don't matter. People matter. When Rob was sick and getting chemo treatment, his whole world moved into a 14' x 14' hospital room. The only thing that mattered to him at that time was who visited, who loved him and who he loved. If we took that approach and applied it to our materialistic, insane phone-worshipping lifestyles we might all be better people. If we take nothing with us when we go, why is what we drive and live in so important now? The fishing lures Rob left me the last time I saw him have no meaning outside of the man behind them. They are just plastic, wood and steel. They remind me of the laughter in the boat in 1996. Outside of this they are just items without meaning.
Worry about the future gains you nothing. To be completely honest, I can be a very anxious person. When I try and see what the future holds, my job, my marriage, my kids, my health, I can get real worked up in a hurry. What grounds me more often than not is the realization that life can change in a heartbeat. I hesitate to use the analogy of God puppets, but that's about how much control we have of our future. We can plan for it, save for it, and dream about it, but one drunk driver, skipped heartbeat, or natural disaster can change the whole course of it. So, you know what? Your time is better spent in the moment. You may call it shortsighted, I prefer to think of it as here-sighted.
Kiss, talk to, and engage your kids, relatives and pets. With one child as a senior in high school and one as a freshman, we are on the brink of an emptier and empty nest. If I could tell you where the last 18 years went, I would. I think 8 of them were lost to formula, diapers, and chicken nuggets (I'm so, so sorry about the chicken nugget thing, Sarah and Ben). Despite the fact that they are teenagers and it's brutally apparent that we are suddenly living in the city of Babel where no one understands anyone else, I am committed to talking to and listening to my kids. At this age, that's what they need the most. Someone to listen. Listen, approve, affirm, and correct as needed. But mostly listen.
If you don't have children, love your nieces and nephews, or even your pets. Everybody is just passing through here, so appreciate your time with all of them. Tell them you love them, even if you don't like them very much at the moment. Love covers a multitude of sins.
Live life to the fullest. This was a common phrase from Rob. He lived by it. The words resonate with me given the short life he was granted. It can be as simple as appreciating the nuances of a guitar solo, a magnificent sunset, admiring a beautiful garden, catching a big fish only to let it go and live another day, emailing a friend from high school you've lost touch with, dancing when no one is looking, laughing at yourself, appreciating good food, trying something outside your comfort zone, praying for a hurting friend, helping others, helping others, and helping others.
Everyone has a story. I used to think I was experiencing pain no one else had ever experienced. Then I met someone who had lost their whole family by the age of 50. Then I met someone who had lost their parents at a young age. Then someone who lost a child at twenty something. Then I served at a homeless shelter and heard a few stories of addiction, homelessness, and loneliness. All of these stories promptly put my grief in perspective. It made me realize that sorrow, sadness and loss are part of life, every one's life. The saying goes "If you ain't experienced the blues, just keep on livin' and you will." - Buddy Guy.
Family is more important than ever. I've grown closer to my mom and remaining siblings than I ever was. All of us have learned to blow away the chaff and get along better. We can overlook one anothers apparent shortcomings in the interest of loving them more completely. The thought of losing another one of my siblings is mortifying. In turn, I know I need to do my best to appreciate the time I have with them. Think they have issues? Look at yourself. Get past it and love them anyway. You've got your own warts and tics. Remember that they'll be the ones visiting you in the hospital room someday, so be nice.
Faith matters. I often wonder what our reunion in heaven will be like. Will there be recognition of family and friends ( and pets?) at some level? Or simply the communion and coexistence of all of humanity in deference and worship of almighty God? I have to believe there will be a reunion of recognition. Maybe it will be a combination of the both of these scenarios. I do know it'll be amazing and good and our reunion with them will pale in comparison to coming face to face with God. Until that time, I need to make sure I'm doing what I was put on earth to do. To help, to love, to live, to worship, and to dream.