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 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.
Nathan’s life was not all sunshine and giggles. He knew pain and loss, including our father’s sudden death when Nathan was a small child and the troubled home that resulted. When he was a teenager, an automobile accident killed two of his best friends and left him with permanent injuries. Though it prevented him from achieving his dream of becoming a pilot, he dreamed new dreams and encouraged others to pursue theirs. His generosity and trust often led to being taken advantage of. He suffered unprovoked and unwarranted violence when gay men didn’t even merit a blip on the domestic abuse radar.
In spite of it all, I never saw him yield to hatred or bitterness. He lifted others up, finding peace in relieving their pain. He loved to make people laugh. The more cruelly the world treated him, the more he looked for ways to show love and compassion to those around him.
Near the end of his short life, he watched with horror and heartbreak as friends lost their careers, homes and then their lives to AIDS. When he became sick himself, barely out of his twenties, he regularly visited 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.
Throughout his life, in the face of betrayal, loss and unjustifiable violence and when mercilessly battered by a vicious and relentless disease, he refused to succumb to bitterness and hatred. And amazingly, after every blow that knocked him down, he would get back up, look inside of himself and find more love to give away.
Nathan has been gone a long time. The nephew he played with on the beach is now a grown man with a wife and child of his own. But no matter how much time passes, the lesson Nathan’s life taught me is always fresh, speaking to my heart when it’s battered and breaking with sorrows, trials and injustices: Refusing to live in self destructive bitterness or paralyzing self-pity – living to love – defies all that is evil in this world.