I once had a brother. His name was Sean. He was incredibly cool—like, really cool. This was due in part to being part of the mid-80’s punk movement. This included ripped jeans, a black leather jacket, a half-shaved head of bleached hair, a pierced ear and a small self-inflicted tattooed blotch on his wrist. And as common, unremarkable and unoriginal all of these coming-of-age badges are today, back in the 80’s they were shocking and scandalous. He was different, and he literally wore it on his shoulder. But contrary to his appearance, Sean was also gentle. People liked him. Maybe it was because he was tall and attractive with his blue eyes and deep voice. He drew the affections of most people he knew—especially girls.
There are two things I want you to know about my brother.
First, before he was cool—he was awkward.
We didn’t share the same father. In fact, his actual father completely disowned him almost since the day he was born, but especially when my mother remarried. And her new husband, my father, legally adopted him as his own son. And, like a good dad, he loved Sean with all of his heart and showed up to every significant event in his life, including soccer games.
There was one particular game I’d like to tell you about. Something devastating and beautiful happened that day. Sean was around twelve at the time. His body was going through a lot changes, and unfortunately, he had put on a lot of unwanted weight. This made him profoundly insecure of his appearance. At this particular game, Sean was playing on the field when his coach called him for a substitute. Unfortunately, the sub didn’t bring his own team jersey, and regulations stated that all players on the field had to wear a numbered jersey. The coach asked Sean to remove his jersey and hand it to the shirtless sub. As you might imagine, in front of dozens of families looking on, this horrified Sean. He hesitated. The coach then demanded it. With no other choice Sean pulled off his shirt, revealing his body in front of all the spectators. He handed it to the sub, and the game continued. Ashamed and devastated, Sean made his way to the bench with his arms wrapped around himself in an attempt to hide. But it wasn’t working.
My father watched all of this taking place from the bleachers. And I will never forget his response. He stood up and made his way to Sean. And in front of those same spectators, my father removed his own shirt and placed it on his son. Hold that moment in your mind for a bit. Those are the affections of a loving father, as pure as I know.
This is love.
Second, although Sean was cool—he was sad.
You know how the story ends, right? Sean became cool—like an epic ending to a 1980’s John Hughes film. Unfortunately, that’s not the ending. Time passed in his teenage years, and the many things that were at work inside of my brother his entire life had finally seized him. Sean ended his own life on October 26, 1985. He was seventeen. Why this ending and not another? Sean had so much. Life was far from perfect, but he had close friends and sacrificial parents. He was attractive and intelligent. People were naturally drawn to him. Essentially, Sean had love.
Out of all of the thoughts I’ve had about his death since I was twelve years old, the preeminent question I have been asking myself is this: Is love really enough? I believe we are all confronted with this same question.
Many of us have a difficult time believing the love we are surrounded by. Love was made to be believed. But, where does love actually appear in our lives? When do we feel it brushing up against us? It may show up in a parent, a mentor, a friend or God. But even saying it that way seems so cliché. It seems trite enough to ignore. So, let me put it this way: Life has been difficult, even unfortunate for many of us. We have been seduced, deceived, and made our fair share of regrettable mistakes. And all of us are simply asking, “Will someone be there for me in my weakest, most vulnerable moments?” Here’s the truth. Likely, there are people in our lives daring enough to say, “Yes, I will.” And if they’re saying that, then they’re probably telling the truth. But is that enough for us? Only if we believe it. Do you believe it?
When love appears and is ignored, we live a life as if it were not real. But when love appears, and we believe it, it changes everything.
Love may not always be enough, but it can be—if we allow it to be.
Photo courtesy of Garrett Curry