The Big Goodbye
It seems such a quiet September. There’s no rush—for work, for school, for supplies, for uniforms—at least for now. (Albeit, there is Zooming, and two novels, One White Geranium and Mine, to complete.) My son’s school will have an initial week with two days in the classroom and the rest online. After that, it appears to be one day a week “in” school and the rest online. What a difference! Even the traffic is toned down—picked up clearly from the depth of the pandemic, but still noticeably subdued. For example, I can actually hear the Canada geese, honking their way overhead to and from Port Meadow, a short distance away, my neighbor’s car door slamming and the click of my gate’s magnetic lock as it closes. Very quiet indeed.
Underlying every September, no matter if the pace is robust or weak, is the thought of my youngest brother Barry. He was born in September and died in September, 14 years ago, almost to the day. Barry perished while scuba diving, doing something he loved—spearfishing for lobster off the Florida Coast. This came as a shock to all, not just because he was in good health, but also because he died shortly after his older brother Bruce passed away. I was not stunned, as my two brothers had been joined at the hip, and for them both not to go at once or at least one shortly after the other might have alarmed me even more. In fact, while I never expressed it to anyone, Barry did seem to be waiting, almost expecting to go.
I received news of Barry’s fatal accident just after returning home with my then young son from the Science Museum’s IMAX cinema, where we had watched Deep Sea 3D, a film about the ocean. The underwater experience was so tactile, the sheer joy from the audience, mostly young children and mothers, so palpable in its quietness that the coolness, blue-ness and gracefulness of the colossal screen swept me virtually away. We were lost, immersed, sailing along, spellbound on the back of a stingray, rolling in perpetual waves, playing hide and seek in the stark orange coral of Australia’s disappearing Great Barrier Reef.
In the darkened theatre, my son put his small hand in mine, his face aglow with an orchestra of reflected light and deep-sea luminosity. For some reason Barry came to mind. His presence was unmistakable. I felt as if I was under the sea with him, swimming, breathing artificially. In that instant, surrounded by the sound, the color, the light and life of the sea he so dearly loved, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for a brother who could think as I thought, smile as I did, laugh when the joke between us was hardly shared at all. In my mind’s eye I saw the wide, white sand beaches where we once rolled in the surf. I recalled the one time with waves crashing high over our toddler heads that I almost lost him.
When the call came later on that blustery September day fourteen years ago, and I was told, “We lost him,” I hardly knew what to say, just back from the Science Museum. “I know,” seemed presumptive, rude, maybe even mad, but I knew when my son’s tiny hand took mine in an IMAX cinema in London, England, with all the treasures of the sea spread out before us, that my brother Barry did come to say goodbye, to display the richness of a love that ties and binds.
Wishing you a September, whether busy or not, full of “knowing,” of vivid experiences that are yours and yours alone to grasp and to define.