Twenty-four years ago on Halloween day, I received a phone call that changed my world. I was in college and had just returned home to my apartment from my early morning classes when the phone rang and my roommate, Sean (aka, the Grasshopper), answered it and said it was for me. “Hello”, I said. My dad answered, “Hi….Mike died this morning.” Mike was my little brother. He was sixteen and I was nineteen at the time.
These words still remain clear, yet surreal and I can still feel the shock of them if I think hard about this moment. The power of certain words is immense. These were those kinds of words. The rest of the conversation was foggy, but I remember I told my dad that I would be home that day. I then walked, dazed, into my bedroom and fell apart. The “Hopper” came in to see if I was going to my next class, as we usually walked together.
I, then, said the words, “My brother died.” We both broke down and the reality of the day struck. Saying the words made them real. These are words that one hopes to never say nor hear. The significance of hearing and/or saying them changes people and I was changed forever in this moment.
As the years have passed, I have struggled to make sense and to define what truly matters in my life. I have challenged convention and sought to find my own truth. I have been reluctant to simply accept life as ordinary. I have battled myself and others in this quest for meaning and value. As a result of this event, I take little for granted. This experience taught me that nothing is a given and that the world can and does change in the beat of a heart…or when one stops beating.
I don’t think of this day very often, but it lives with me all the time. It has shaped me in ways that I try to understand, but cannot. I hold my relationships stubbornly and fiercely. I do not suffer drama, bullshit or fools. I am very clear about the things I value and I cling to them as a life raft. I question and am impatient with “systems” that lack efficiency or humanity. What is “right” is usually pretty clear to me, so I prefer to just do “that” and not spend a lot of time discussing it. Time is valuable. My time is valuable. I understand this and I value others’ time. I live with a sense of urgency to be happy.
More than anything else, my brother’s death inspired me to try to live a life of my choosing and to find joy anywhere and at anytime that I can. I try very hard to achieve this and I can find happiness in some strange places. This awareness is the legacy left me by my brother and, during this month of Thanksgiving, is what I am truly thankful for. I recognize and appreciate simple and pure moments. These occur all the time and I am happy to see many of them.
Ironically, I don’t think I would see them were it not for the worst phone call of my life. To me, this again illustrates one of life’s confounding truths: nothing makes sense and everything makes sense. But with eyes wide open and a grin, the world is a pretty great place to be. And I’ve learned that it is best to carry the grin through all of it, because the phone could ring at anytime…
[EDITOR’S NOTE:”Feel Good Friday” is a regular column written by Des Moines resident Dave Markwell, who extols to all neighbors: “Enjoy where we live. Put your feet on the pavement and truly feel how great it is to live here!” Also, you can “friend” Dave on Facebook here. Or work out with him at his exercise company Waterland CrossFit!]