Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The Last Rebel

On Christmas eve, quite unplanned, my mother, father, sister, brother and I were all at the same place, together, just like we always were when we were all much, much younger. Because our family is not exactly large, not in an “immediate” sense anyway, my earliest Christmas memories were just us. Occasionally there would be the special years where one set of grandparents or the other – or both – would make it, and sometimes we’d get together with the very few first cousins along with the attendant aunts and uncle, but that, too, was uncommon, for reasons I will not get into here. My earliest Christmas memories are filled with just us. And it has been a long time since it was just us.


But it wasn’t planned that way. It was supposed to be at my parents’ house a day earlier with all that has become a much larger immediate family; with kids and grandkids and a few great grandkids, we still are not what one might call a “big” family, but there are quite a lot more of us now, and that is despite the fact that we have lost a few over the years. All my grandparents have been gone for a while now, but there are others, too, some at a ripe old age, some not.

All five of us would have been there on Saturday, not with all our kids, but with a lot of them and not with all of the great grandkids, but with a few. However, my brother was not able to make it.


So, the next day, Christmas eve, we came to him. As it turned, only the five of us would be able to make it that day. And, not a moment to soon. My little brother, two years younger than me, went into the hospital about a week ago and his condition progressively deteriorated. While this particular series of events that lead to his passing this morning seems to be – and is – sudden and a shock, his health, generally, has been on the decline for some time now. Although I was not sure if I’d ever see him again, I did know his condition was terminal and that it would not be long. I was able to tell him I loved him one last time while he was conscious and alert and for that, I am grateful. I was hoping I would be able to again, but the end came very quickly.


I have heard folks say that they were “born in the wrong century,” or words to that effect. I have thought that about myself. I have heard people say that about David. While I cannot remember him saying that, exactly, he, more than anyone I know, fits that description best. He would have thrived in Huck Finn's or Tom Sawyer’s day. He would have found himself quite comfortable on the frontier – any frontier. In a place and time when societal conventions, when rules and codes, when laws restricting every little thing were not on anyone’s agenda, he would have been okay. In the modern world with all these norms, with all these conventions, with all these rules and customs and protocols and with all these fucking people, he was suffocating.


While it is true that he fought and fought hard, and while it is also true that the institutions and bureaucracies he fought against could not be beaten, he fought anyway. Some might see that as futile, as foolish, as… stupid, but I don’t think he saw it that way. I think he saw it as principled, and he would not turn his back on what he saw as the truth of being real. Authenticity isn’t easy and the principles that define it can (and in his case did) conflict with modern life. He paid a price – emotionally and physically. But he stood his ground, even though that ground disappeared 150 years ago. To put it into context, every law he ever broke and was punished by society for – every.single.one – did not exist a century ago. His natural state was legislated out of existence before he was even born.


And now, at 59 years old, he has passed – living twice the life many at his age ever will. It is a sad day for my family, and a very sad day for my parents. But, for a few moments on Christmas eve, it was just the five of us. My little sister, Leslie, noticed it. When she said it, it was, for me, like going back in time. A flood of Christmas memories – good ones – all came back. Later holiday seasons haven’t been that for me; there have been a lot of shit memories. Maybe that was his final Christmas present – the gift of gratitude.


Rest in Peace, Dave. Your fight is finally over. If there are riverboats in Heaven, I am quite sure there is a spot on one just for you.