Here on this Memorial Day, while most Americans are heading out to picnics and ball fields, I’ve been thinking about my brother, and by extension, Memorial Day. We often get caught up in the joy of the long weekend, the good weather, the start of the summer season. We sometimes forget that the holiday, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, is somber. No matter what one’s political or moral views, today should be a day of respect and remembrance.
Yesterday, I stumbled upon some photos and interviews of my brother (former Army Ranger, 3rd Bat., Co. B, out of Fort Benning) that I don’t remember seeing before. Years ago, he was interviewed by Mark Bowden for a series at the Philadelphia Inquirer. That newspaper series became the basis of Mark’s book, “Black Hawk Down.”
I listened to the interview clips and stared at the photos of my brother that, in some ways, bear so little resemblance to the middle-aged , middle-class, middle-America, sometimes a little pudgy around the middle husband and father he is now.
When I was diagnosed, Mike was the first person I called (he told me a joke, a sadly appropriate joke about a man whose leg had been cut off to save his life). I knew where his matter-of-factness and grim humor in the face of death came from, and I found it oddly comforting. Later, as I grew weary and tired of my treatments, he was the one I knew I could turn to. I didn’t have to say much, nor did he, but I knew that he understood. More than anyone else of my family or friends, he understood the weariness of facing death.
Fairly often, as I went to work or the gym with my little bald head, people would tell me how brave I was, how heroic. I’m sure they thought they were being encouraging, but I never really understood that – I was just living. I’ve encountered that same perplexed sense when I’ve talked with my brother, or other soldiers, or first-responders on 9/11. None of them thought they were doing anything heroic; they were just living their lives, doing their jobs.
I do not mean to equate facing cancer with being a soldier in a was zone! I can not imagine what that’s like. But I do know what it’s like when all of your choices suck. And I’m not talking about you might lose some money in the market or you might not get that promotion. I’m talking about every option is bad and there’s a good chance you aren’t going to make it – those are the bad choices I’m talking about. And so you make your choices, even if they suck, and you keep going. And in the morning you do it all again. You just keep moving no matter how tired you are because, really, what’s the option – you just stop?
And that is what my brother understood.
Here we are, Memorial Day 2009. We’re both many years past our respective life & death struggles. We’ve added years, pounds, degrees (in my brother’s case), and joy. But once in a while, there’s still a hint of something in the eyes, or a faraway sound in the voice when asked certain questions that belie a darker moment. So, for all the comfort and understanding that his struggle allowed me, I am grateful.
I apologize for the somewhat rambling nature of this post. These are rather elusive thoughts for me and I’m struggling for coherence. What I want to express most is gratitude – thank you.