I sat there unsuccessfully choking back my emotions and desperately wishing I were one of those men who carried a handkerchief. I am afraid I am not much of a stoic when it comes to funerals; I always cry. Some of the most beautifully sacred experiences of my life have occurred while celebrating and reviewing the lives of those who have passed. Brian’s passing and funeral were no different for me in that manner. The tears for Brian were well worth it.
Brian was not your normal everyday person. Even as a first-grader, when I became best friends with his younger brother David, I could tell that Brian was different. He was overly excitable, was not possessed of social graces, and was awkward and overbearing in his conversations. He was also prone to fixating on certain things or subjects -some of them worth the fixation in my opinion -: Sponge Bob, Les Miserables, Queen Amidala from Star Wars…
Brian was also very large and, truth be told, a bit scary when he was agitated. This is not to say Brian had a mean streak, not at all, it was more a fear I had of the size ratio. I was small; he was big. Big brothers can get physical with little brothers and their annoying friends. I can’t count the many occasions when Brian nearly, inadvertently, broke my ribs in a bear hug, or crushed my trachea “adjusting” my tie for me at church. In many ways he reminded me of Fezzik the giant from the Princess Bride (a part he actually got to portray for his junior high play). He was a (mostly) gentle giant with a laugh that could shake a house off its foundation and burst your eardrums.
Perhaps it was due to the era of his birth that there really wasn’t a diagnosis to place on Brian at that time, or perhaps by his family’s design, his condition was never really discussed. I think ultimately it was decided that he was high functioning autistic, though I was not aware of this until after his passing. Mainly it was just known that Brian was Brian and you just rolled with his quirky antics. The way his father put it at his funeral was “Brian was hard to live with…but he will be just as hard to live without.” In many ways that is a good summation of who he was and the effect he had on those who knew him.
To say Brian’s life was rife with pain or sadness would be an understatement. In juxtaposition, to say that he was surrounded by love would be inadequate also. Those who got to really know Brian loved him immensely. Those who didn’t understand him would often belittle, bully, patronize or just plain ignore him. I know that he made many people uncomfortable. His untamed enthusiasm coupled with the fact that his volume button was almost always stuck on maximum, was just too much for many to handle. On the other hand, those who spent any quality time with him recognized the titan heart within his giant frame. In spite of his struggle and the poor treatment he too often received, he never became bitter or held a grudge. Brian forgave repeatedly and readily.
Being around Brian taught you a lesson about yourself and, of course, it wasn’t only those outside his family circle that needed to learn from Brian. His family (complete with amazing, saintly parents and three fantastic brothers) were ultimately those who learned the most from his life. Perhaps the most beautiful lesson was learned by one of his older brothers, Clark. Siblings can often be the most cruel, impatient and mean towards each other and Clark was all of these things to Brian at times. By his own admission, Clark struggled in his relationship with Brian. At his funeral I believe he used the word embarrassed, to described his feelings towards Brian all the way up until his early teenage years.
It was at this time he had a very poignant and realistic dream. A dream that ultimately lead to a change of heart and to an improvement in the way he treated Brian. I won’t go into the details of the dream as it is a sacred experience to their family. I do think it important to summarize the apex of his vision however. In the dream Clark saw Brian in his pure, perfected and beautiful form. He saw a tall, handsome, and whole version of Brian not encumbered by any of his earthly limitations. At the end of the dream he had the very distinct impression that Brian was his key into heaven. Clark realized that this meant the manner by which he chose to treat Brian was a great part of his own earthly test.
Clark’s experience had a lasting and profound effect on him. I know that his actions towards his brother softened dramatically and he soon became one of Brian’s greatest champions and heroes.
Clark’s dream reminded me of an experience I had with Brian as well. I was in my early teens and staying at David’s home for an extended visit as my family traveled back to the states for a military assignment for my Dad. It was there that I too saw a brief glimmer of the Brian not readily seen.
I was walking up the stairs from the basement when I heard Brian having a conversation with someone. His voice was carrying throughout the entire home, which was pretty typical. I think that he and I were the only two people upstairs at the time. I soon realized that he was saying a prayer, normally I would have moved on quickly as to not disturb or eavesdrop, but something told me I needed to listen. I quietly walked down the hall and peeked around the corner into his room to see him humbly kneeling beside his bed praying.
Brian’s words were typical, but the feeling and intent behind them were not. His prayer soared in its simplicity. He spoke in reverence but with a tone that seemed as though he were speaking with a family member. He was engaged, comfortable and for lack of better words, pure. I remember feeling especially touched when he began to ask forgiveness for his shortcomings. It was obvious to me at that point that Brian knew of his limitations, something of which he had no control over, yet was still asking forgiveness for as much. At that moment I felt an overwhelming spirit of acceptance and love for Brian. Not just emanating from me, but from God toward Brian. There was close communion taking place between a son and his Father. Though I did not see it , I felt Brian’s spirit, whole and complete. It was powerful. I was deeply moved.
The prayer did not last long, but it made a lasting impression upon me. I wish that all of my personal prayers drew as close to heaven as I felt his did that time.
I don’t claim to have been a big part of Brian’s life. I also don’t claim that I always treated him as well as I should have. There were many times where I quite simply did not know how to act around him. I am sure I missed many opportunities to make him realize that, even though not a daily part of my life, I loved him and that he had made a lasting impression for good upon my soul.
Brian’s weaknesses were more pronounced than many. They kept him from fulfilling some of the milestones in this life that I have frankly taken for granted: marriage, children, higher education, driving… His inabilities masked from plain view the precious person and soul alive and well in his spirit. His spiritual DNA, as with all of us, is divine, beautiful and glorious. He has undoubtedly passed his mortal test, and in my estimation, with high marks.
Brian’s life was yet another example of the worth of a soul. I have no doubt, because I felt it so unmistakably that day I listened in on his prayer, that in spite of everything, he was precious to God beyond definition or scope. Brian’s life and circumstances were no mistake. There is a beautiful purpose within the short, wonderful, difficult, happy, trying- 41 years he sojourned on this planet. He has made a permanent impact upon many for good.
How often do we fail to truly see others in this life? How is it we can so readily discount God’s children and their worth? My judgement of others is often immediate, final and unjust. As if on judgement auto-pilot I quickly categorize, marginalize and compartmentalize those around me. Not only do I notice the blemishes in others, I often find myself actively looking for them. I don’t just do this with the casual passer by, but also with those closest and most loved by me. I fail to view them as they really are. I fail to see them.
Brian’s life and example have encouraged me yet again to make a better effort to see people. I want to peer past the superficial and get those magnificent glimpses of the divine within. I want to more so see more of the souls of people who surround my life. I want to view them in the same way I believe Christ views all of us. Of course He can see our imperfections, yet He loves us perfectly.
Brian, I echo the sentiments of many who knew you and tried to love you as best we could, however imperfectly. Thank you. I see you now Brian. Thank you for your life. Thank you for constant and consistent forgiveness of those who rarely saw you for who you really were, myself included. Thank you for enduring life. Thank you for enduring us. Until that beautiful day when those who love you get to bask in the glory of your pure, radiant, perfected form (I am certain you will try to crack my ribs in a hug then, too) God be with us ’til we meet again. I have no doubt you are in His presence. You are more than worthy of my tears.
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