We do not own each other. Kids don’t belong to their parents. Spouses don’t belong to each other. We are lent to each other until our lease runs out. The only permanent truth is knowing that everything is impermanent. It’s knowing that we take our first breath alone. We take our last breath alone. We have no idea the time we have in between those two breaths, but we do choose what we do between the first inhale and the last exhale.
I’ve been a big proponent of leaving regrets and grudges by the wayside. It’s a waste of time, I’d say, to cling to anger, and to beat ourselves raw over past decisions, lost opportunities, failed relationships. A more productive use of our energy is to spend some quality time on self-reflection, on experiences we can squirrel away in our life’s knapsack, and pull them out when we find ourselves in a similar circumstance. “Ahhh, yes,” we can say, “I’ve learned that lesson. Thankfully I don’t have to live through it again. Phew.” That’s until we find ourselves in a different situation, repeating the same old tired patterns, asking ourselves, Why can’t I get it right?
Every day we pick up the newspaper and read about horrific tragedies in the world, the Newtown shootings, Boston Marathon bombings, a missing airline, to name a few more recent ones. We close our eyes and thank the celestial beings for our countless blessings, shake our own hand, and make a promise to be kinder to our spouse, spend more time with our children, call our parents and siblings more often. We take a last sip of coffee and go about our day.
It’s not earth-shattering news that tragedies make us pause, take a quick inventory of our lives, and make any necessary tweaks to live a more conscious life. It’s natural and important, but rarely does it stop us from going to bed angry when we’ve promised ourselves we wouldn’t, or stop us from screaming at our kid instead of remembering those who have lost theirs, and ask ourselves, “How would love respond in this moment?”
After my mother’s stroke, I was certain I’d never take any time with anyone I loved for granted. I’d not waste another breath arguing with my husband. I’d no longer become frustrated with my parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, and strangers. I had earned this new-way-of-being badge and pressed it into my heart.
A truth I’ve not shared with anyone before now, because I didn’t have the guts to stomach it, is the realization of a regret I’ve carried around since my brother’s death—not reaching out to him more frequently while I still had the chance. Instead, I waited for him to reach out to me, because I was right. During his last visit in June, he had a conversation with me—he felt that I’d abandoned him in the past year. When Skype had been removed from my work/home computer by our IT department, I could have bought an iPad to FaceTime. I could have learned the other numerous ways to communicate with a brother who lived on the other side of the globe, but I didn’t—I had PLENTY of time. And yet… there was a little more to it.
Rocky wasn’t here. He hadn’t lived through the day to day heartache after my mother’s stroke. He lived in Bali—a life so far from my own. Maybe I was angry at him for leaving, for moving so far away, for not being here with me and my brothers’ and my parents. Maybe I was angry he had a child who I couldn’t see and share in her life in some meaningful, tangible way. Or maybe the sadness in his voice and in his eyes hit me in those places where my fear ducked for cover. I couldn’t bear that he was right. I couldn’t bear that I’d hurt him.
I put my arms around him during those last few moments I’d ever be face to face, body to body, and said I was sorry , said I’d try harder, and that I loved him with my whole being. But I didn’t try harder, because I wanted him to try harder, too.
I talked to my brother over Christmas in a room full of people over a bad internet connection. I’m waiting Rocky, I thought to myself, I’m waiting for you to apologize, to tell me that you didn’t mean what you said. To tell me that you didn’t feel abandoned by me. To tell me that moving to a thirteen-hour-time-zone away was your choice, not mine. To tell me you’re coming home to be close to our family. I waited for all these declarative statements that would never come. I waited in my place of rightness, in my place of knowing that we had a miniscule window of time to connect during our hectic days. I waited for him to say, “I abandoned you, too.”
I was still in Maine. I went to all my family functions. I was the good and dutiful daughter, but more than that, I was his older sister who he used to talk through everything with before he made a decision. I missed him, and connecting more frequently only reminded me of how much I wanted him home.
Death has become a long dark roadway, giving me time throughout the day and wee hours of the night to drift along, imagining how I’d redo the past seven months if only I was allowed a second chance. It’s given me time to play the “what if” game. Fruitless? Yes. Does it change anything? No. So what’s the point? I’m not sure if I have, or will ever have an answer to this question. It just happens all on its own.
I’ve mined my inner depths, digging through the archives of our time together. My brother loved me. I loved my brother. Both are true. He didn’t abandon me and I didn’t abandon him. We were different creatures. He was a free-spirited ethereal being who could not be contained anywhere for long. I knew, and have always known this about him. And he knew that I’d live out my life in Maine being here for my parents.
As siblings, we weave stories about each other. Some are true and some are not true. We play roles within our families and trying to break out of them is like to trying to break out San Quinten, but it’s worth the energy and sweat to see and to honor our siblings as the men and women they’ve grown into, and not freeze them into the role they once played.
If I could hold my brother’s hand, hear his laugh, and walk along a wooded path with him one more time, I’d give up everything I own. I’d say to him, “I love you in the only way an older sister can. I will roll in a bed of coals for you, or give you my heart if either will save your life. You’ve been a beacon in my world since the day you were born. I know you had to move to Bali. I don’t blame you for leaving. I’m not angry at you for going so far way. I just miss you so much sometimes—I do what I can to push it out of my mind until I’ll get to see you again. Maybe that’s why talking to you causes pain that I didn’t understand before. Forgive me. Your travels allowed you to bring your love and light to more people. You don’t belong to me; you never did. You’re on loan and I swear I’ll cherish our time together no matter how fleeting. As you said about life, ‘You love every single minute of it.’ Rocky, I love every single minute I’ve had with you. Every single one.”
Here and now, I promise you, I will not avoid what causes me pain. I will learn from this most recent lesson that you’ve handed to me: there is nothing more important than to love the people who matter most, and to show that love each and every moment we’re given together until our lease runs out.