One year ago, my older brother was suddenly killed in a pedestrian accident. He was in his very late 60s, recently retired, a successful doctor and businessman who left behind four well-educated, ambitious sons and a beautiful, devoted wife. Everything had been perfectly accomplished!
Upon the death, several siblings fell into profound sadness for this man who had been allowed to reach an age and level of prosperity and renown that few could ever hope for! Despite decades of (expensive) Catholic school education, their minds were numbed — and remained confused still, some 13 months from his death. As one of my siblings lamented, over and over again: “I just can’t get my head around it. How could this happen?” The death of a man who lived well and accomplished everything gloriously is some sort of impossible calculus. Yet a Russian missile with Texas Instrument microchips slamming into an apartment bloc in sleeping Kyiv startles us hardly enough to stop from the scrolling on our phones.
This aspect — the aspect of their inability to grasp his passing, despite literally decades of messaging about some sort of “risen Christ” — has really struck me.
I was recently speaking with one of my brothers about it. He said. “I can’t accept that he has died. It is so horrible. I cannot accept it.”
Eventually, Zen could not hold back any longer. I said to this brother, “Dude, what is your favourite season of the year?” This brother is a New Englander, so I KNEW the only answer he could give.
As if on cue, he said, “What kind of question is that right now?”
“Just answer the fucking question, idiot. What is your favourite season of the year?”
“Well, Autumn, of course.” He had fallen straight into the trap — but a trap which might save him.
“And why do you love Autumn so much?”
“Well, the leaves in New England… You know! The colours of the leaves changing. It really is the best season to experience…”
“So, it’s the leaves. You like the fall foliage?”
“Yes, of course.”
I continued, “And that smell of them, too, right?”
“Yeah, it’s all an amazing experience…”
“And why is it that those fucking leaves are red and yellow and orange and all?” He was silent — he didn’t get the point. I continued: “Why are those trees so beautiful to behold? Because they’re fucking DYING, OK, you stupid fuck? The leaves are all in the process of death! All along, your whole life, you have loved the condition of dying and death, and yet you never really knew it, even as it appeared before your stupid eyes. You have seen, every Autumn, that death is actually the most beautiful thing in the world, and yet somehow THIS death of our brother is somehow less meaningful or less beautiful or true. You fucking idiot. If you want to make peace with the death of [our brother], get off your fucking knees in church praying to some stupid empty vacuum and take a drive in Vermont in October. Then you’ll know what is the meaning of his death. You fucking idiot!”