Twelve years ago today …
I was watching “The Practice” with that cute Dylan McDermott and the skinny actress from “Twin Peaks.” It was a 9 p.m. Sunday night habit.
The phone rang, and I knew immediately something was wrong. The phone rarely rang after 9 p.m. at our house. The caller told me my brother had been gravely injured in a car accident on snow-covered roads, and my parents were on their way to the hospital.
There was nothing I could do except wait for more news, so I went to bed and said a prayer, “Dear God, give me the strength to handle whatever is about to come.” I just knew the news was bad, and I couldn’t bring myself to ask for something I knew I wouldn’t get.
My brother, Curt, was already dead when I said that prayer.
I thought of my brother last week when I heard President Obama speak about the shooting tragedy in Tucson. “You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations — to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless,” Obama said. “After all, that’s what most of us do when we lose someone in our family — especially if the loss is unexpected. We’re shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward. We reflect on the past. Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in a while but every single day?
“So sudden loss causes us to look backward — but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us,” Obama continued. “We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame — but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.”
When my brother died, I did a lot of that soul-searching so eloquently described by Obama. I joined a church and I reorganized my priorities so I could foster better friendships. When I saw how many friends Curt had — close, strange and varied, I was convicted about how few people I had cultivated real relationships with.
Before he died, I distinctly recall how appalled I was that my brother had spent a significant amount of money (to him anyway) to bail a friend out of jail. What a waste, I thought ruefully. And after he died, I was surprised to learn of a friend with whom he regularly watched movies; this friend later left movie tickets on Curt’s grave, he missed those regular get-togethers so much. Another one of his friends was quoted in his obituary as saying, “He was kind.”
What I learned from Curt’s death was that friendships — of all kinds with all kinds of people — were important. He made a difference in people’s lives. Like Obama described, my brother’s passing had me really asking myself if I had shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in my life.
I am a better person today — with many full and varied friendships — because I knew my brother. And I have cultivated those friendships with persistence because of his death.
I miss you, Curt. Today, I thank you, too.