When I moved to Toronto, one of the things I was fascinated with was the Queen Street Bridge over the Don River. I couldn't for the life of me understand the words inscribed with wrought iron: "This river I step in is not the river I stand in." I thought it was some pretty poetic prose, but had no clue what it meant. Later, after doing some random reading, I came across a quote from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who said the following:
"Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers ."
"Everything changes and nothing remains still... and... you cannot step twice into the same stream"
"We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not."
It was like a lightbulb finally clicked on, and I understood: I'm going through a river of change. I'm not angsty like I was during puberty, and I'm not yearning for days gone by like I might during mid-life crisis. If I use Heraclitus' quotes, I feel as though I was standing in a still river 10 months ago, when a smooth pebble was dropped in. The little waves became huge swells, and I know that when the river quiets down again, it won't be the same. And neither will I. That pebble? My cousin Michael.
It started with a text from my brother in the last days of March 2011. Michael wasn't feeling well, had gone to the ER, and tests were being run. Next, news that he was diagnosed with leukemia. Then, a call the day before I left for a business trip to Vegas - Michael was on life-support. As if leukemia wasn't bad enough, he also had a life-threatening infection that was causing his organs to shut down. In an effort to preserve what strength he had left, he was put in a medically induced coma. This all happened in less than 48 hours. I told mom I was coming home, and Vegas could kiss my backside - until, she told me that before Michael went under, he told her to tell me I HAD to go. He was proud of me and what I had accomplished in my career, and under his orders, I wasn't allowed to come home until I went and handled my corporate business. So I went to Vegas, came back to Toronto days later, and drove straight home as soon as I got off the plane.
In the months that passed, I watched Michael fight harder than anyone I had ever seen. He damn sure won a lot too. He beat the infection and woke up from the coma ready for war. Machines to breathe for him, flush his kidneys for him, live for him were disconnected one by one as he regained the functions necessary to live on his own. The seemingly never-ending cycle of antibiotics, chemotherapy, and blood tests began as he fought the leukemia, but through it all he never once complained. He never once solicited pity. He never once said "Why me?" With everything that was thrown at him simply because of the magical work of cells and science, he never once exhibited anything but pure determination and strength.
He made it to my wedding, y'all. When doctors said he wouldn't survive the infection, he did. When they said the chemo drugs would make him too weak to even go outside, he did (after 3.5 months in a hospital room). When we were unsure if he'd be stable enough to make the trip to Toronto for my big day, he proved us all wrong and showed up front and centre, slaying lesser beings in his fly new suit. He did what he wanted to do. He didn't go along with what he was told he could do. God...I was in such awe of him.
He wasn't the only one who had me amazed. His closest family, his identical twin brother Marc and his parents were the definition of unwavering strength. My mom kept her promise to Michael of visiting him in hospital every day, no matter what. My brother expressed emotions that I've never seen him express while his best friend taught us all about life. The hospital waiting room was all at once a therapy session, a support group, a comedy show, a concert hall, and a quiet space. The whole experience left me speechless.
Michael laid down his armour on November 3rd, 2011. As with everything else during this process, Michael left us on his own terms. Once he was satisfied to know that we knew he tried his hardest and fought with everything he had, he closed his eyes and finally got some much-deserved rest. While I prayed incessantly that we wouldn't have to sacrifice him in order to learn the lessons that he taught us, that's how things played out. Part of me doesn't mind, because I can only imagine how tired he was. Not only did he fight against everything that was thrown his way during his illness, but he was a teacher to us all. He single-handedly changed thought processes, life goals, personal paradigms, hearts, minds, and souls of everyone who came in contact with him. That, my friends, is a lot of work for one man to do.
My blog is called '83 To Infinity. If you read the About page, you'll get some understanding on what I was going for with that name. However, I had a bit of additional insight at Michael's visitation. You see, Michael, Marc and I were all born on the same day: May 10th, 1983. I was saying to my uncle that I was rocked by all of this because Michael and I were the same exact age, and had been on the earth for the exact same amount of time. Now, Michael was gone onto the next phase of being, and I was still here. What was I going to do with the rest of my time here? How was I going to honour him and entertain him as he watched over me? What was I going to do now so that I could leave a mark for others, the way Michael did for me? We started in '83, and if I have my way, Michael and I will be making waves in rivers to infinity.
Because of Michael's lessons, I can't complain anymore. I can't take things for granted anymore. I can't settle anymore. I have to go for what I want, regardless of what anyone may say. I have to be strong. I have to carry on his strength, his determination, his optimism. It's the least I can do for him. Michael is that smooth pebble that dropped into my still river, and I will thank him for that every day of my life. You did it, homie.
So, there you have it, folks. Even though the blog was already 3 months old, Michael gave me that confirmation when I thought about the possibilities of what I was left to do here until I see him again. Have you ever had a smooth pebble drop into your still river? What did you learn, and how have you changed?