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The Luckiest Brother in the World

February, March 2005
By: 
Michael Doyle
You see this goblet? asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, Of course. When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.—Mark Epstein, Thoughts Without a Thinker

If I rattled on about sunlight and mitochondria and bees, Mary Beth listened. If I thought digging a badger out of its hole was doable, Mary Beth grabbed a shovel. (Yes, we dug a badger out of its hole.) I was her big brother. Mary Beth Doyle took life seriously, which, of course, means joyously. She loved anyone and everyone who loved life, too.

What was unusual was the way she trusted the world. Mary Beth's laugh defied cynicism, her dancing resisted despair. How many big brothers want to grow up to become like their wise younger sister?

I could sit quietly in a room with her, my face warmed by the radiant sunshine she carried with her, and understand grace. She never took anything for granted. When she was younger, yes, some folks tried to hurt her -- children can be cruel. She never understood cruelty, and never gave into it.

Mary Beth spent much of her mid-teens banging away hours at The Wiz in Long Branch, a pinball hall sitting on the lip of the Atlantic Ocean. She played like she walked a bit on her heels, with an earnestness that would make Dickens' Tiny Tim pause. She was not particularly interested in beating you (that was never her goal), but she always wanted to give her best effort -- not sure she knew what 'half-assed' meant. After she played, she'd go wander by the ocean's edge. Mary Beth wandered a lot. I stopped worrying about Mary Beth wandering everywhere (and nowhere) years ago, when she regularly got lost when the family went shopping together. But I wasn't lost.

When Mary Beth was 14, I got into a li'l car chase -- two vehicles against us in our Dodge Dart, one vehicle blocked the road, I stepped on the gas and headed right for the middle of that car, it budged (else we be dead). ... I powerslid through the streets -- my youngest sister was screaming in fear, and Mary Beth had a half-grin on her face, enjoying the ride. Marnie was screaming we're gonna die, and Mary Beth said yes, true enough, just not right now. She trusted me so. And she was as crazy (crazier) than me -- if she weren't my sister, I'd have made her my life's love or pined away missing her ... but I got to be her big brother. Which makes me matter. If that makes sense.

Beth's laugh defied cynicism, her dancing resisted despair. How many big brothers want to grow up to become like their wiser younger sister?

I love Mary Beth -- as so many do -- in all senses of the word. Mary Beth's love of the best in each one of us allowed her self to melt into others. She was fiercely independent but had grace enough to accept love from anyone who had love to offer. Again, this sounds, well, wrong, and would not work with anyone interested in power. She was not. She did not particularly worry about my happiness because I was a happy imbecile whenever I was within reach of her shadows. I think a lot of us got silly happy when she was around. Remember this when we gather (or rather dance) in her name.

So I am still her big brother, and those who knew her know what I mean, and those who didn't, well, part of me wants to shake you and shout "Don't you get it?!" -- but of course that would be a very un-Mary Beth like thing to do, because she knew, given a chance, anyone one of us was capable of "getting it" -- even the folks on the other side of the fence.

What did I do to deserve her? Nothing, absolutely nothing. I am the luckiest brother in the world. And you know what? She never analyzed why she made us so ridiculously happy ... that wasn't the point, not the point at all. She was Ho-tei, the protector of children, lover of life, a Zen master (though she was not a Buddhist -- or maybe she was).

Most of all, she was our Mary Beth. Which was more than I ever deserved.

I miss you. I'll try not to be too terribly sad for too long. But I am not making any promises.

-- Michael Doyle