Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"To laugh often..."

From a refrigerator magnet my brother gave me many years ago:

"To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch... to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. 
This is to have succeeded!" 

My brother, Steve, did all of these things. He succeeded in life. It's whether or not we succeed in death that makes me ponder.

In the late 1990's, I battled two, concurrent fatal illnesses and survived. From about 2005 on, my brother fought through loss, loneliness, and deep internal pain and chose to die. The paradox is frightening. I remain confused. 

But if I look at his life, I know he set a wonderful example for many. 

Did he "laugh often?" He did loudly and with abandon to the delight of his friends and family and, in particular, his young nieces and nephews over a span of 23 years (13 of them, aged 4 to 23). The "affection of children" was guaranteed once he started talking like Donald Duck or handed out silly nicknames like they were candy or rolled around the floor playing just like a kid. 

"Win the respect of intelligent people"? Of course. He was a MENSA member and there was no one he couldn't engage in elevated, useful conversation or debate, including me. I guess I, too, like to think I'm intelligent although I've never been tested for genius. Up until just a few weeks before his death, we battled at online Scrabble, sometimes starting and finishing a game in one day. He won every time. Every single time. 

Did he "earn the appreciation of honest critics?" Over and over again Steve put his heart on display via his art, his writing and editing, his advocacy for the lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender (LBGT) community, and his volunteerism via the Saugerties Public Library, the Burrill B. Crohn Research Foundation and many local art events, festivals and fairs. His participation both actively and vocally during the Civil Rights era earned him respect and life-long compatriots. The comments flowing in about his present and past efforts are glowing and numerous. 

Ah, "the betrayal of false friends." I know of an occasion or two where he got hurt by those he thought were true. I'm sure there were many more. I know I hurt him more than once but I was never a false friend; just a typically-flawed sibling. 

God did he "appreciate beauty." His eyes were beautiful lenses as he would always remark about color and palette and the wondrous and breathtaking glory of the natural world. He would see things others did not see. He would point them out for us to enjoy. And he "found the best in others." More than one colleague has said he lit up the room when he walked in and made everyone feel good with his razor sharp wit and emanating love. 

Yes, he "left the world a bit better." A whole lot better in my opinion. He helped research scientists find a viable cure for HIV! He volunteered his blood. He went back to the researchers over and over again. He made this incredible difference for all of mankind all while growing glorious "garden patches."

I literally "breathed easier" because he lived. He sat by my side after an emergency tracheotomy and I wasn't so scared anymore. My big brother was there. He protected me and I breathed, albeit with the aid of a machine for weeks, but I breathed because he held my hand. He was there. 

So I guess what I'm saying is success can be marked by simple good deeds or by remarkable achievements. My brother did both. May I be worthy enough to carry the torch. 

Great-nephew Peter with Uncle Steve

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