I finished Unbroken last week. I loved the story, the perseverance, the redemption. It was an outstanding life, Louie had. Most worthy of writing a story about. I dove into this book with perfect descriptions, actual pictures of people and places and a very real and tangible understanding of the depths of relationships and bonds that were formed. The first relationship that stood out to me was the one between Louie and his brother, Pete. I won’t go into great detail, but Pete is the one who introduced Louie to running, which ended up saving Louie from a life of crime. Pete relentlessly invested into his brother and never gave up on Louie, who was a pretty troubled soul in his younger years. After the Olympics, World War II, being a POW, loosing friends, being captured and tortured, suffering from PTSD and hatred that enveloped him, his brother stood by his side, through it all. At the very end of the book, these sentences unfolded:
On a May day in 2008, a car pulled to a stop before Pete’s house in San Clemente, and Louie stepped out. He had come to say goodbye to his brother; Pete had melanoma, and it had spread to his brain… Pete was on the bed, eyes closed. Louie sat beside him. Softly, he began to talk of his life with Pete, tracing the paths they had taken since pneumonia had brought them to California in 1919. The two ancient men lingered together as they had as boys, lying side by side on their bed, waiting for the Graf Zeppelin. Louie spoke of what a feral boy he had been and all that Pete had done to rescue him. He told the cascade of good things that had followed Pete’s acts of devotion, and the bountiful lives that he and Pete had found in guiding children. All of those kids, Louie said, “are a part of you, Pete.”
Pete’s eyes opened and, with sudden clarity, rested on the face of his little brother for the last time. He couldn’t speak, but he was beaming.
As I read this short paragraph, my heart began pounding and my throat began to tighten. And by the time I finished the last word, I began to sob. It was the middle of the night and I couldn’t sleep. John was beside me and I curled up, so I would be more quiet. I touched my chest, where my heart beat just behind my ribs, as the tears fell and tried to control my breathing through a snotty nose. I wept for quite some time in the darkness, as my heart ached and my body was stiff. It felt like a flood. It was overwhelming and each calm breath, I fought for.
Perhaps I wept because I could relate. I too, have laid next to a sibling with cancer. Whispering while she was in a drug haze “it’s ok, moo. It’s ok. I’m here. I love you.” I have sat next to her after a surgery that cut her from sternum to pubic bone as she cried and I remembered our life together, in little flashes of memories. Eating oranges. Sharing a bed. Playing in the woods behind our house. Swimming lessons. Her laying in bed next to me as I cried over boys. Teaching each other dances. Planning weddings. Her being there as both of my children were born. The moment we found out it was cancer.
Perhaps I cried because I was scared. I’ve always assumed I would grow old with her. We would remember our long, full lives. Reminiscing about our younger days while our grandkids and great-grandkids grew and reminded us of ourselves many years ago. And the dreams I had of raising kids together gets smashed to bits while the assumptions I had of us getting old aren’t so certain anymore.
And if I was truly honest with myself and with all of you, I always thought it would be 3 of us. Me, my sister and Crystal Elaine. Crystal Elaine would get healthier every year and one day would be able to smile each day and we would remember the past with some pain, but mostly joy, and gratefulness that she made it to the other side of that sorrow. The thought that I could get old without either of them is almost too much to bear.
For many years of my life I’ve thought I would die old. Really, really old. That I would outlive everyone I grew up with. I have no idea why I’ve thought that. But I remember relating to Legends of the Fall at a fairly young age in that respect. [And you all can laugh and read this at my funeral when I die of a freak accident before I'm 40] So picturing these two old brothers together, having lived full lives, made me bitter with jealousy. It also made me swell with love and all the good-feeling things that the bittersweetness of this life brings to us.
So I guess I wept because I was scared. And jealous. And sad. And filled with understanding that was taken yet again to another deeper level.
And I most certainly cried because the dreams and hopes I’ve always assumed would happen, were once again faced with the uncertainty of it all.
My heart wants to stop dreaming. But it can’t. It doesn’t know how.
I have discovered that the human heart is incredibly resistant and unyielding.
Some days I wish it was more easily shaken. The let down would be easier. But most days, most moments, I’m just in awe of this heart of mine. How it keeps beating, flying and dreaming, despite it all. Dreams may die. They may die over and over…and over. Grieving dreams that have been challenged, altered or taken away really hurts. It’s a whole other level of letting go. Things may not go how we thought and hoped. But dreams will always sprout their vibrant, fresh green heads out of the soil, without fail. They don’t know any different. Just like my heart. I tell it one thing, but by habit and being perfectly created, it defies me. Vehemently and furiously.
I just have to give it time.