We scattered rose petals in the ocean to chase my brother’s ashes. The petals were a gift from my mother’s best friends, senior ladies at the heavy end of 80. They could not travel to attend my brother’s small service for any number of reasons: Covid, their own infirmities, distance. They are, though, surrogate moms — to my sister, my younger brother and me. Mom died two years ago. She left us behind, but then she’d predicted most of her life it would end that way. As to my brother’s sudden and unexpected departure, that surprised us all.
It wasn’t the virus, but still, we are not sure how he died. We were relieved, though, that he did not endure a long illness. My brother, you see, was mentally challenged – slow – and I had subconsciously feared that he might eventually suffer a long illness, emotionally painful. Painful for me, if not for him.
Fourteen people gathered (safely) on the beach in early December, along the east coast of Florida where we grew-up. A cold front had insinuated itself the day before, leaving the temperature cool and dry at 60 degrees. The sun glittered off the water and luminescent sand as we circled to tell stories and speak of our common love for my brother. What struck me most was the dignity of it all. Dying with a dignity that my brother was seldom assigned during his life.
Each person on that beach had looked beyond my brother’s challenges, and loved him as he was. Just like the fellow Jesus looked at so very compassionately, the one who said he wanted to follow Jesus, but in the end, couldn’t. Jesus loved him. Is there any more beautiful verse in all of Scripture? Jesus loved him, just like he loves each of us. Each person on that beach loved my brother uniquely and tremendously, so we told stories about him, about how he got into trouble for blowing-up fireworks (accidentally) in his room growing-up, how he collected Chinese-fake college championship rings, how he could recall in great detail any subject he took a real interest in. About his tender heart.
I write all of this to add memorial upon memorial, but also because I think dignity, these days, is so seldom accorded. Dignity, the simple dignity of being a child of God, a creature of the earth, and a soul of the universe. We are so inter-connected, this we know, but we treat our better halves as half-beings, and I wonder at it all. Don’t you? And, let me add, I don’t say this because I am better at love than the next person. I am not. I, too, am a half-lover.
Which returns me to my knees in a hope not just of forgiveness, this Epiphany, but that perhaps I might capture an outpouring of divine dignity for me to give generously away.
Like the ladies and their rose petals. The petals floated out to sea, sinking with my brother’s ashes, then washing to the shore as correspondence. The next morning, you see, I walked a mile along the same beach, and there was not a single twenty foot stretch upon which I did not find a rose petal. Dignity dispersed, and I wonder (don’t you?) what the world might be like if we scattered a few more rose petals?
Peace, my dear brother. Peace.