It's June 29th, the survive-iversary of the day my brother overcorrected, drove his motorcycle off the side of a road and began a journey to a new life that we now celebrate once a year. You've read the story before. If not, much of it is right here and here and here.
This year, over ice cream cones on a beautiful summer night, I shared some of my brother's story with my little boy. I didn't mean to. But perhaps it was on my mind. Maybe the timing was right. It could have been the energy of this week, with its peace and heartache and hope and divinity all wrapped in blue skies and big clouds and warm breezes and something around the corner none of us could predict.
Lil E and I were walking home, trying hard to keep our ice cream from dripping down our wrists. I was holding his hand as we crossed the street, mindful of the corner where drivers often cut close to the curb when they turn and of taking a few more careful glances each way even after the light said it was safe for us to walk.
"What is a coma?" he asked, and I told him.
"It is when your brain has been hurt in some way -- in an accident or by an illness or for some really big and unusual reason -- and it becomes very quiet. It is like sleep, but deeper. It is a time for the brain to heal, to repair what has been hurt...hopefully."
[pictured: My brother and my boy, 2009]
I am straightforward about these things with him. He is often not fazed my the scientific nor the spiritual. He thinks deeply and if I avoid questions like these or skim them over, he would ask a thousand questions to get to the root of them. Plus, this is our vibe, the way I've always spoken to him. He received it and asked more . How long was Uncle Seth in a coma? Were we there with him when it happened? How did we find out? Was Lil E's daddy there, too? What did he say? What did Uncle Seth look like in the hospital? Was there blood all over his body? What happened next? Where is the motorcycle? Did Uncle Seth ever want to ride one again? Is Uncle Seth the same as he used to be?
I answered all those questions, too. I told him about the phone call I got while I was coincidentally at my parents' house, just off the dial-up computer line, only moments from leaving. I told him about flying to Virginia immediately, about seeing my brother in the ICU, about what the ICU is and how the people there saved his life over and over again. I told him about finding the names of the couple who witnessed the accident and who called the emergency crew that medivaced my brother away from the scene. I told him that I called the woman, heard the story that only she and her husband knew, how I thanked them. I explained how grateful I am that those two people, angels alongside the highway, ran to his side, comforted him while he cried and bled, called for more help. What a miracle, what kindness, I said.
"Are you going to cry now?" He gets protective when he sees my tears.
And then I told him about how hard I prayed for Seth to live, to be OK, to find his way back from unconsciousness, that I was scared...very scared.
"Were you afraid your brother would die?"
"Yes," I held on, trying not to cry as I answered. "I couldn't imagine a world without Uncle Seth in it and it made me feel very afraid and lonely and sad."
Lil E wanted to know if we were angry, how many other people prayed, what his friends did when they came to visit. I shared many details. I tried hard not to be too grim or upsetting. I tried to hold out the hope and the blessing that I really do see in this day every year.
"It scares me a little to think of Uncle Seth bleeding and crying."
That hurt my heart to hear. I shouldn't have shared that part. But I so wanted him to know about the lady -- the wonderful stranger I must someday find again -- who held him and helped him to safety. That was a selfish and parental need of mine to explain, I know, beyond the Good Samaritan thankfulness of it all. It was a need to believe that if something awful happens to the person we love most in the world when we are not there, some other arms will envelope him in our absence. And that it will help.
"Yes, I am sorry," I said. "That is a very hard part of the story. And a lot of is that way. But there are also so many things we can't explain that are amazing and hopeful and full of love and faith."
He nodded. He understood. But the pain and tears was still tense in the air between us.
Lil E understands that in our family we can talk about motorcycles and play with toy bikes, but that we don't ride motorcycles. He knows that we went through Seth's accident as a family and that through that, we all got a second chance to live our lives. He knows it is one story -- one story of many -- that makes up thousands of integral moments together.
What he doesn't have to learn that we all have, however, is that June 29th is not the only story of my family's life. It was defining, yes. But it time has enabled us to have more heartache and hope, more stories and survivals. Yes, the crying and blood will always be on this day. I never, ever want to feel that hole of pain pull me in again. But I always want to acknowledge the beauty and thanks and days that have enfolded since.
So here we are. Now a new generation has heard the story of this day, and June 29th will continue on with its provenance. I hope the sun shines down on all of us. I hope the clouds float lazily by. I hope a warm breeze finds my brother, hundreds of miles away, reminding him of the love and words and history we share. I hope the universe adds an extra layer of protection around him today as we all whisper our thank you thank you thank yous.
In honor of Seth's Survive-iversary, won't you please take extra care with your helmet as you bike today? We strongly believe that Seth's helmet and the helmet laws in the Commonwealth of Virginia protected his precious brain and life.