Seventeen years ago this coming Christmas, I lost my brother to AIDS. He was born on the same day as me, only two years later. We shared birthdays, and birthday cakes, for 27 years. We were close as kids, but grew apart when I started high school. I so wish I would have stayed closer to him then. However, I was caught up in myself, my world, ever-expanding and exciting to behold. He, however, started to sink into a world of confusion, and activities that were foreign to me. Aside from the connection I felt as siblings, I could not relate to my brother, or his actions. Sadly, he continued his fall into the darker side of life, seeking friendship within a world of addicts, while I climbed the stairs before me to what many perceived as loftier heights. However, something deep inside of me felt amiss. I could not put my finger on it. It haunted me for over 25 years. Even my brother’s untimely death did not make me see, or understand what ate away inside of me. Although his loss clearly weighed heavily on me, I was unable to see, then, the connection between him, his life, his challenges, his frailties, his despairs, and his loneliness, and my internal anguish, which I could neither name, nor face.
Fortunately, by what some would call the grace of God, others good fortune, and me, fate, the fog covering my soul lifted, ever so slowly, revealing the inner calling I always felt, but never understood. By suffering in my way, over the years, I developed the ability to understand what truly mattered to me, versus what I thought was important. Rather than continue with an image locked in place from my adolescence, I could see the painting etched on my soul, by God, time, life, and my brother. I was determined to help those in need, in the way I believed I could do so, as a teacher.
For nearly 30 years, I wondered what I was going to do when I grew up. When would I feel certain I knew that what I was doing was what I was meant to do? Or more importantly, would fill me with knowing that I was aligned with my destiny? Thirty years are a long time. Waking up every day, going to work, getting married, seeking a graduate degree, raising children, looking for resonance in my soul. It wears you down. However, as water smooths the rough edges of the stones it passes over, making itself less turbulent and more clear, so, too, do the years over a man, rough in many ways still, but more sure of his purpose now than ever.
The countless Doug’s of the world, lost to their purpose in life, wondering why they suffer at the hands of those that should love them, desperate for someone to care for them, or convinced that no one does. They are who I seek. While I cannot touch everyone’s life, I hope I am able to help some; I believe I have already. Those who wake up everyday wondering if they matter, whether they need to care, or even try to fulfill societal expectations that seem so out of reach. Those that are open to trying, one day at a time, to see if someone cares, or is willing to listen, or to show them compassion in some way. And even those who cannot commit to trying regularly, since it is so disheartening to have tried before only to walk away empty-handed so often. All of these souls are important to me. I hope to show them through teaching that they matter, are important, are capable, and with effort, can do much more than what they may have allowed themselves to believe.
That is why I teach.