Every day, without looking very hard at all, I find amazing examples of courage in every corner of my life:
My best friend cousin, Sal, who has survived two bouts of lymphoma and the chemo treatments that were worse than the disease itself. My hero friend who keeps living with integrity and purpose in the face of a body chemistry that seems determined to make her life hell.
My student whose parents' marriage is shredding before her eyes, and who still comes to school smiling and cheerful and ready to learn every day.
My best friend since seventh grade, Marcia, whose incredible parents are aging, fading, dying as she does the best she can to support, love and nurture them. The role reversal is a costly one, and she bears it with such grace.
My husband who sticks with a marriage that looks nothing like the one he thought he was getting, and who lives calmly and mostly happily with the challenge of a spouse who cannot sit in the status quo quietly - who actually can do nothing quietly.
I just spent the weekend with a man who is among the most courageous I know.
My brother Mark.
Mark is the middle of the three younger brothers I grew up with. We are all in our fifties now, but I still think of them collectively as "The Boys". My sweet, tender quiet baby brother - the one I remember as being most adept at avoiding our parents' wrath and snares, the one whose interests most paralleled my own, the one whose approval meant the most to me - that brother lost his way a few years ago.
Without telling his story for him, the time he spent in the wilderness cost him a high-powered career he loved, the wife he still adores, and his treasured status as grandpa. He has spent the last year rebuilding his life. He spent this weekend with me, in part to reclaim from a friend's house the last of his possessions from his life before.
There were many times this weekend that I blinked back tears as I watched him sort through photos of a marriage that is no more, artifacts of a life that he loved and destroyed, treasures that he accumulated in happier times and that will always be a reminder of what was and is no longer. Every now and then, he would stop after turning over a particularly poignant picture and say, "That was hard." Then he would go on.
In an odd way, the time we spent sorting through Mark's things was like being at a funeral. He said goodbye to the life that died. We said goodbye together. We celebrated the glorious and the mundane. We grieved the losses and the pain.
And we laughed. At the stories behind some of the pictures. At us in the pictures - Mark grinning, wild and woolly; me wild, defiant and oozing sex. At the weird things he saved when he packed his possessions for storage - plastic spoons? post-it notes? an apple candle?
In this last year as I've watched my brother rebuild his life from ashes, I have been continually amazed at his lack of self-pity or anger or bitterness. He accepts responsibility for getting to this place, believes that God is holding him in His Mercy and Love, and is grateful for the life he has. My brother Mark is a wonder.
He has a blog, The Other Closet , which he has given me permission to share. His story is amazing, his writing powerful, his life a gift to anyone lucky enough to know him. He has come such a long way from the cave of his childhood. The Cowardly Lion has found his courage at last.
Photo from Flickr