Lessons of my brother


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Category: Relationships Date: 15 Mar 04


I'm riding on the crest of something-could be a mountain, could be a wave that's keeping me balancing I don't know because there's nothing concrete going on here:-no board, nor wheels, no water nor blades. It's a mental thing.


Just stuff in my head. In front of me is a book with the cover of a man standing on the pedals of a bike-behind him a jagged mountainous coastline. Every cliché in the book is pounding in my ears- the deeper sorrow carves into you, the more happiness it can hold. Let's get this clear.


It's not about the bike. The bike is this ridiculous tiny piece of metal with two thin, thin wheels. I can't believe anyone-especially grown men and women, would want to balance on it as it clearly belongs to the circus. The gamut of emotions it can haul out of you -hopelessness-as you learn to balance, astonishment as someone lets go and you keep moving, marvel, as you keep steady on a highway with cars whizzing at you at 100 miles per hour, fright as you stand on top of a hill picturing yourself hurtling over tripping over rock, the face of death as some idiot car driver screeches within a hairs breadth of you, shock as it knocks you down, shaking as you get up-wonder that you want to get up and continue to ride, risking your life with bad handling skills.


Two years ago the tallest, most handsome, arguably the most successful member of my family, my brother, like thousands others in this country, was badly rattled with the most dreaded word in medical history.




Thinking of it now makes my heart sink, my mouth dry. And if you are a member of a family, you know that a family is one body-yes, blood is thicker, and at some point you don't know where you begin and where your brother or sister, father or mother end-that pool of family blood is so scrambled-no wonder people say ALL families are neurotic. You take a perfectly normal person. You put them with their family and suddenly you see this human being that is weird, Pavlovian, infantile. My husband could have eaten an eight-course meal minutes before he enters his parents home and his first words are "Maa, food".


As a family member you are the sum of common experience, of genes, of the human instinct, of a similar tone of skin, of familiar shapes of a mouth, of expressions that are passed down generations. You know exactly what they are thinking in every given situation and you find that they can exasperate you to desperation in one moment and make you want to hug them the next, as if you couldn't live without them. They are puzzling, they take up your nights, you'll probably talk endlessly about them on some couch someday because they are always in you. If one member of your family is threatened by illness you feel as if a limb is being torn out of you, and emotionally the world goes dark even in bright sunshine.


The horror began around the same time I began wobbling on a bike, learning to overcome the unknown...hence. Hence the analogy to life.


My brother taught me during his trial the most important lesson I will learn all my life. That failure is not an option. The battle against that cancer monster became Operation Baghdad-the ammunition was the chemotherapy. The troops' spirits were held high through a terrible operation or two to remove dangerous lesions. And flirting with pretty nurses became a necessity for the battle to go on.


Now most of the time, but at a smaller scale, I think people's jumbled lives feel as random and cruel as that horrible act of terrorism in Spain. But then come the moments of feet tingling, eyes brightening, heart thumping grace.


The latest results showed my brother was in the clear. It looks like we are winning the battle. We were no longer a limping family in the dark.


We were whole again. Two weeks ago I recalled a Baptist lady in prayer saying there is a miracle in every life. This was ours.


It was the big precursor to a week that wiped out my fervent belief in the aphorism by the philosopher who said "Hell is other people". I'd mutter it under my breath every time I got frustrated. Now I find it doesn't fit anymore.


Little things, like a friend who unexpectedly returned a loan I'd written off, a stranger literally offering me a strong helping hand while I scrambled up a ravine in an adventure training session, not once but twice.


In the dark. She just saw need and put a hand out.


Finally, last night, I was doing something that comes the closest to flying.


Something I could only dream about. I was sprinting, in a road bike, the last one in the pack, but I was part of it. The wind was in my face. I knew that danger, the horror was out there-could be a crazy car, or the result of my own bad handling skills, but I when I checked my heart I was stupefied to find the absence of fear.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur