I brought my laptop in the hopes of capturing something profound.
I knew I had a long night in front of me. I’d been dreading it for weeks. Ever since I heard the news that my brother Ron needed the heart surgery.
We said our teary-eyed goodbyes and he went under just after one in the afternoon. He was done sometime after eight. It would be another hour or so before we got to see him and we were told that he would not wake up before the next morning so everyone left but me.
I would sit at his bedside for the next twelve hours to make sure he was ok.
Not that there was anything I could do but panic and alert the proper medical personnel if something came up but there was nowhere else I wanted to be.
He was my brother.
I brought my laptop and wondered if I was going to gain any insights that I could share.
So I waited for some brilliant epiphany as I sat and watched him breathe in and out amongst the bright lights and beeping machines.
I ended up settling for a memory.
I was in college, in a giant lecture hall, and the instructor was lecturing on life and death. I’m not certain but I’m pretty sure it was a class that had nothing to do with philosophy so I’m not sure why the topic was even being discussed. But the teacher was prattling on about it anyway. If memory serves I think it was an astronomy class. Maybe it had to do with some astrological sign or mythology or something but he was making a point about how final death is and how everyone, secretly or not, fears it. To make his point he asked everyone with a sibling to raise their hand.
“Now, how many of you would trade your life for theirs? Truly die to let them continue living.”
Every hand in the class of over three hundred went down. Except mine.
He looked at me.
“You would trade your life for theirs?” he asked contemptuously.
“Yes” I answered without hesitating. He took this as a sign I was lying.
“I don’t believe you,” he said.
I looked at him and said the only words I would speak in his class all semester: “I don’t give a shit what you believe.”
A machine chirped out a vague alarm and brought me back to my brother’s bedside.
Maybe fate didn’t believe me either because years later my brother would face cancer twice and neither time was I asked to step in for him. The kind of cancer that stole your hair, ended marriages and dashed any hopes of happy endings. Radiation and chemotherapy would allow him to survive both bouts but would leave his body ravaged and in need of the heart surgery that left him lying comatose in front of me with tubes sticking out of every opening.
As the hours passed I thought about love and mortality and hope and irony and waited for some wisdom to hit me. If I wasn’t able to find some deeper meaning about life here next to my brother as he fought for his then where was I ever going to find it? Between staring at him and crying I wrestled with the familiar doubt that every writer deals with. Here I was facing an emotional crisis and nothing was coming.
I felt like a fraud. A charlatan. Empty. Hollow.
I wanted to feel something beautiful. I wanted to capture something powerful. I thought I was being unselfish. I wanted to bring something moving to you.
And nothing came. Nothing but the hurt of watching my brother groan and gag on the ventilator shoved down his throat. Just mundane concern.
About six thirty in the morning his eyes fluttered and he squeezed my hand. He finally seemed out of the woods after an endless night where every minute seemed like an hour.
You might think that had he died I would have something more profound to pass on to you than a boring story of relief. You might even believe that as a writer it is my obligation to want to feel things that most people fear and that by having my brother live I have cheated you out of something but in the end I realized that as long as my brother is alive, I don’t give a shit what you believe.