During these early morning hours the house is quiet and dark, except for the whoosh of the furnace pushing off winter chill. So early, Jeb the Dog remains content, nestled in his kennel. Pouring a second mug of French Roast helps me get in touch with myself, caffeine rewarding a familiar routine.
This morning I am feeling the warm reassuring presence of my big brother. Not the iconic hero of my youth but the reformed Jerry, the mature man, the less imposing elder transformed – not defeated – by Alzheimer’s. It is not grief, though his funeral last July is still fresh in all of our memories. This morning, this day, right now, I feel profound gratitude that he remains my big brother. In his earlier years he could appear to be a know-it-all – a deeply ingrained trait common among the males of my family. Age, catalyzed by thirty years working a 12 Step Program, transformed him into the go-to-guy for me and so many others. The young Jerry would have craved this role, his older “redeemed self” attempted as best he could to deflect, diminish, dismiss it.
It’s not been an easy winter! The very idea of “spring-forward” this Sunday amid the harshness outside suggests more that we’ve all collectively endured a psychotic break with reality! Closer to home, we have had just too many deaths this winter – many of our parents’ generation but also friends in their 50s and one as young as 43. People who are especially dear to us struggle with addictions, parenting, careers, debts, you name it. As is often true, T.S. Eliot says it best:
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter…
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation…”
Amid it all, savoring coffee, hearing Jeb the Dog upstairs shaking off a winter sleep, there is the warm reassuring presence of my big brother. The “redeemed” Jerry had a mantra he seemed to incessantly prescribe for all the world’s ills – “Life on life’s terms!” He used to drive me nuts! How could anything be so univocally diagnosed, treated and resolved? Now, from the perspective of early morning darkness I find myself again acknowledging his sage advice and grateful for the consolation of his reassuring presence.
Jerry’s mantra brings me back to my deepest spiritual roots and what Ignatius of Loyola referred to as the First Principle and Foundation. In essence, Ignatius observes that we are much better off if we hold ourselves in a sort of balance, or in equilibrium, as far as we are able before everything that life deals us. Why? Because everything, literally everything, holds the potential – through God’s merciful grace – to bring us to fuller life. Our only desire or choice should be whatever disposes us more and more to God’s deepening life within us.
Ignatius claimed this as his Principle and Foundation. T.S. Eliot escorts us through rough terrain to much the same conclusion in The Journey of the Magi. My big brother tried as best he could each day he woke up to Alzheimer’s to accept life on life’s terms! This transformed him!
Jerry had another refrain which he was equally wont to say: “Works if you work it; doesn’t if you don’t!” Sage wisdom from the go-to-guy in my life and the lives of many! I need to work his program. “Love you, bro!”
T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Journey of the Magi can be enjoyed [here].