I keep wanting to text my younger brother Wally, who is recovering from surgery in Los Angeles. I keep wanting to ask him, “What’s it like now?” to find out if he’s still standing in the light that shone when the veils parted two weeks ago, when a football sized tumor was discovered in his stomach. There he was, just a young guy in the middle of his life – busy, running a business, juggling 10,000 things – and then bam, everything that was so important evaporated, the veils parted, and he was reminded that his life was very small in the face of something much larger, something that he didn’t have any control over, something that made him stop and get very still.
As I write this, I realize that this is his story to tell, not mine, but I piggybacked onto his story because I needed it, because it never occurred to me that I might lose my brother, and that thought slowed me down and had me get very still too.
The veils don’t part for me that often. The hallucination of my important, busy life mostly stays firmly in place. Like most people I know, I run around trying to keep up with my list, ambitious, always trying to get ahead, and with a fair amount of worry that I won’t do something right, or do it as well as I could, all the while forgetting completely that my days are numbered. And so I watched my little brother very carefully. I paid attention.
Two days after they discovered the tumor, they took it out. The two-hour surgery became a five-hour surgery, but the doctors felt they got it all.
I drove down to L.A. a few days later, and one night after his wife had left the hospital, I sat on his bed holding his hand in the dark as he fell asleep. It was the smallest thing, holding my little brother’s hand. Here we were, the two of us in middle age, but we might as well have been five and six years old, sitting in the dark, waiting out the monsters. The warmth of his hand, the feel of his grip…I sat there for a long time, glad for once that I didn’t feel a pull to be somewhere else, privileged to be included in something so real.
After Wally’s surgery, he and his wife and son sat quietly for 8 days, recovering, waiting to find out what the biopsy would reveal, and what that would mean to the rest of his life.
“I feel I will get good news,” he texted me the day before his doctor’s appointment, where the results of the biopsy would be disclosed. “But I’m prepping myself for bad news because believe it or not, there’s something bigger than me. And bad news,” he wrote, “might not be bad per se, but just a hassle for me in the coming years. There is much to be earned and learned from this experience,” he said, and then ended by telling me that he would spend the rest of the day practicing his Italian.
I always knew my younger brother, my only brother, was a beautiful person. He runs our family business in Los Angeles. He’s smart and organized – a numbers guy with an artist’s heart – he’s warm and funny and everyone who meets him loves him – men and women alike. “Palms open,” he told me once, years ago when we were together, as if to say, “whatever is coming is coming.” So when I got his text, when I saw the way he was holding this whole thing, the way he’d found such a gracious, glowing place to wait for the news, I was astounded. I wondered how I would be in the same situation.
The next day, driving home from the doctor, he texted all of us to let us know that the tumor was benign – that he was in the clear – that he could return to his life as he knew it – no toxic surprises for now.
“Do you still feel it?” I want to write. The glow of the veils parting, how for a brief moment the hallucination of what was important and what was not faded and he and I were both reminded of how sweet things are – how precious our lives. We signed our texts and emails the whole next week “Love, Love,” a word we bandy about, but which now seemed to glow on the screen.
It’s always my fantasy that these moments will change me forever, help me get things straight, but they come in and out like bad radio reception. I will return to the hallucination, I will forget what’s important, I will get stressed about nothing, forget that I am loved and the world will become small again. I’ll forget that Wally and I are being carried by something larger, and that even with good news, we’re all still terminal and have no time to waste.