Images of Nathan emerge from my memory, like pages turning in a mental photo album.
“No, not that one!” I reject a vision of my brother’s disease ravaged body, sallow skin stretched over a frail skeleton.
I quickly conjure up another, on a beach…
The image crystallizes in my mind, becoming clearer as my memory stretches back in time to grab hold of it. He’s squatting down at the shoreline, sun glinting off his tanned, muscle-toned body. His face has a glow of life and health. Dangling securely, from the safety of his uncle’s encircling hands, is my infant son. The memory takes on a life of it’s own now. I hear the breaking of the waves on the shore and the giggles of delight from Josh. He repeatedly draws up his chubby legs and plunges them back down into the ocean waves foaming over his toes. Nathan is beaming, happy to share this moment of joyful discovery with his nephew.
“Both my boys were so young when he died that they hardly remember him, ” I lament, on this twelfth anniversary of his death. “There are so many things they will never know about him, never learn from him. ”
But there is a lesson I learned from his life that I can share with them.
I saw Nathan experience more than his share of pain and loss on his road from childhood to manhood, including the death of our father, a troubled home, and an automobile accident that killed two friends during high school and left him with permanent injuries. Later, those injuries prevented him from achieving his dream of becoming a pilot. Still, I never saw him yield to self-pity or bitterness. He lifted others up, finding peace in relieving their pain. He built new dreams and helped others to pursue theirs.
I watched him suffer the sting of betrayal in many forms. His generosity and trust were abused many times. He suffered unprovoked and unwarranted violence on several occasions. The bitterest of betrayals came from the one he thought to be his life-long soul mate. In spite of it all, he never became jaded by it. The world could hurt him, but it couldn’t turn him.
I saw his horror as he watched friends lose their careers, homes and then their lives to AIDS. When he became sick himself, barely out of his twenties, he regularly visited to the pediatric AIDS ward at the local hospital. He brought stuffed animals to the abandoned babies until he was too weak himself to go anymore. The more cruelly the world treated him, the more he looked for ways to show love and compassion to those around him.
In the face of painful losses, when subjected to unjustifiable violence, when mercilessly battered by a vicious and relentless disease, he refused to succumb to bitterness and hatred.
Refusing to hate or live in bitterness defies all that is evil in the world. I believe it is one of the noblest things a human being can do. This is the lesson Nathan lived during his life, the lesson that I hope my sons will learn from their uncle.