Memorial for Charles
If we are fortunate, we find our family when we fall. If we are lucky, our family is there when we come into the world. Our mothers love us and raise us. Our fathers love us and stay. Our brothers and sisters, if we have them, come up with us. Our grandparents and our aunts and uncles, our cousins and relations – some of us are lucky in all these, some not. Our Gods, our language, our culture, surround and embrace us, our place in the world is made for some of us before we are born and we are sustained by what we come to know as ours – if we are lucky. Not everyone is.
Some of us, most of us, find some love in the wider world as we go out into it. We make our friends and then new friends and then friends after these. We fall in love or we don’t. We find family as we rise, if we are lucky and that family, that new family: husbands, wives, partners, lovers, the families we move into and the families we make, become part of the family we have. That is the ideal. That is the expectation with which most of us have been raised. It is not always so, but we often wish it were, even when that is not our own experience, entirely.
A child falls with every expectation that someone will be there to pick the child up, to sooth the pain, kiss the bruise, to make the world right itself, time and time again. Sooner or later we learn, most of us, to right ourselves. If we are raised right, we learn to lift others.
Some of us find our family as we rise and do not know that we have until we fall. We find the friend who will be our friend when we grow old. We find the friend who will take us in, who will listen, who will love us still when we are wrong, or absent, or simply different from the friend they assumed they knew. If we are lucky we get to keep these friends with us. We are not always lucky. If we are lucky our friends can become the family we choose, and that family can be there to catch us when we inevitably fall again, when we sometimes cannot right ourselves, or the world, when our other family is too far away, or won’t have us, or no longer know how to help.
If we are lucky we know our family when we fall.
I have been lucky. We have been lucky.
I made a friend. We were young. Smart as we were, we were stupid as only young men can be. We made each other laugh. We were smokin’ hot, though neither probably knew that with any confidence at the time. We worked together and roamed and had long, clever conversations, meant to signal to each other how smart we were. There were confidences and controversies, and the world was new, and darker than we thought, but still negotiable. It was fun, great fun, and so, I now think, were we.
But we did not know what we did not know yet; all the things we’d have to be taught, all the things we couldn’t change, all the things that would. We did not know. I am so grateful now for our ignorance then. We would learn.
We did not know, we could not have known, that we had found family in each other, that we would be brothers. I’ve hesitated to use that word. I have. We did, but now I can say it here. It seems to me a word we earned.
We talk too much nowadays about joy. I do, anyway. We talk about the things that give us joy. We’re told to find our “bliss.” There’s no harm in it – maybe -- most of the time, but it distracts us, distracts me, from what can matter more. Joy finds us, just as grief does, and it’s good to know these things as they come to us, to recognize what matters as it happens. We are told to be “present,” – as if we have a choice, most of us, most of the time. There are practices; meditations, faith, philosophy, meant to help us. What we avoid, most of us, because we can, is what is only mournful, what is too hard; our knowledge of our own ignorance, our impotence, failure, loss. It isn’t always joy we need to find in the fall. There may not always be a lesson. The universe does not always mean to teach us. Sometimes the loss is all. Some losses are irreparable. There is an indifference that can be almost impossible to bear.
Charles would have argued with this. Would that he were here to tell me I am wrong.
Sometimes we only find our family in the fall.
Sometimes we can only name our brothers when they are gone.
He was my friend. He was my brother. We were family.
So long as I live, I will miss him.
He fell before his time. We cannot have him back. All we can do is take care of his family in his absence. Love the people he loved. Fight the battles he taught us to fight. Remember the pleasure we had in his company. Try to be better, as he did, all his life.
Sometimes we find our family in the fall. The people in this room, the people who can’t be with us now but would be if they could, his family, ours, mine, we must do as best we can now. We must all try to do better, not because I say so – why should any of you listen to me? – but because he would want us to.
Hopefully, if we are lucky, if we try as he did, every day to be better than we might be on our own, we too will find our family before it is too late, that they may be with us in the fall.
That may be all we can ask of life. Here is his example, in this room.