In the weeks since my brother’s death, I’ve had the opportunity to experience a whole new level of existential contemplation. Questions have passed through my mind: “Why David first? Aren’t we supposed to go in chronological order?” – and my faith was tested in a way I had somehow managed to avoid previously. I’ve enjoyed the belief that every life has meaning beyond the mere incidental, and it would be nice if our deaths were accompanied by a little care package from the gods, explaining at least our most profound contributions, so that those left behind have something to focus on! Alas, it is not so obvious, and we are left to figure out for ourselves the greater impact of a life ended too soon, before he was ready. How do you quantify the ineffable specialness that is itself a complex mix of quirks and qualities?
There are things I would have done differently, and things I would have said, had I understood what was happening inside his body. We were told that his heart was only pumping at 10-20% normal strength. In retrospect, I’m convinced that his increased emotional outbursts over the past couple of years were his body’s way of compensating for a weak heart — in essence, his body was amping up his adrenalin to make his heart work harder, and the emotions were largely a side effect. Over the last couple of years of his independence, when he lived with Alex, David actually started confiding in me. He’d always been such an intensely private person that if he had a secret, he made no allusions to it — you’d have no idea that secret existed until he saw fit to tell you. So when he started confiding in me for the first time in his adult life, it gave me a lot of joy to be there for him. After his strokes, we didn’t get as much chance to talk. He was more prone to text message tirades than to meaningful conversation. Looking back, I should have known. It makes so much sense now. But we didn’t have any historical context to help us recognize what was happening to him. If I had a chance to go back, armed with foreknowledge, I’d spend more time with him, be more patient with him, and get one more hug. I’d tell him I love him, and that I’m sorry.
But you know what? He wouldn’t judge. David had a truly generous spirit — he gave without keeping score. He never once belittled anyone in my presence, not even behind a person’s back. Despite his temper, he remained focused on the problem — it was never personal. When he went to dinner with you, he always wanted to pay. When giving a gift, he’d spend two hours on elaborate wrapping and bows, which made them as much joy to look at as to open. He was big on presentation, and for that reason would have made an excellent supervillain, or any other job in which elaborate costumes are required. I thought about the painstaking attention to detail, and the fearless application of color and art that he was so good at. And I realized that, for me, the purpose of David’s life was to introduce us to risk in expression, and to bring us to whole new levels of awesome that I for one never knew existed. With him, everything was bigger, bolder, and preferably carried a prestigious tag. Despite our rather modest upbringing, nothing was ever out of his league. The very concept is inconceivable. He believed, and lived the belief, that he belonged in a “station” or “class” the rest of us found unreachable. His belief was apparently all that was required (and that should be a lesson to the rest of us!), and he truly lived a life he wanted up until his disability removed his independence. I know he must have been so frustrated, most of all that his body was betraying his plans. But he lived a great life, and he didn’t waste time.
But my point is that I believe he lived as a shining example of what you can discover and achieve if you reach beyond your comfort zone and, just for kicks, see what kind of “awesome” is waiting for you.