My brother Will would have been 29 today. For us, though, he will be forever 17. Photographs of me show wrinkles around my eyes, creases developing in my neck, the body’s signs of age and parenthood. Will, though, will always look out at me with those youthful, sparkling brown eyes, with that smooth skin, happy-yet-mischievous smile.
All the might-have-beens pile up: a college graduation, a wife, a career, cousins for my kids. I try to replace those with thoughts of his life: playing basketball with him in the driveway, swimming in the ocean, all the board games he beat me at, every time he made me laugh.
Was it a lifetime ago or was it yesterday? It was both, it is always the bittersweet truth of a well-lived life that was cut too short.
We remember you, Will. Happy birthday.
I turn to Rilke, who I go to so often for his poet’s comfort.
In the end the early departed have no longer
need of us. One is gently weaned from things
of this world as a child outgrows the need
of its mother’s breast. But we who have need
of those great mysteries, we for whom grief is
so often the source of spiritual growth,
could we exist without them?
Is the legend vain that tells of music’s beginning
in the midst of the mourning for Linos?
the daring first sounds of song piercing
the barren numbness, and how in that stunned space
an almost godlike youth suddenly left forever,
and the emptiness felt for the first time
those harmonious vibrations which now enrapture
and comfort and help us.
I long to quiet my anxious heart
and stand beneath the sky’s immensity.
I long to pray…
And one of all the stars
must still exist.
I do believe that I would know
which one alone
and which like a white city stands
at the ray’s end shining in the heavens.