I've noticed over the last few days how close I am to tears. I'm not particularly sad or emotionally distraught, but it seems that a song, an image, even a few musical notes can produce a drastic emotional reaction in an instant, one that I didn't even know was there.
Classically, this is a hard time of the year for me. Tomorrow is October 28th. The year that date became significant and linked with a wound was 1993. I was 19, just starting to catch a glimpse of who I was and who I might become. My brother was 24. While Andre and I were always close, as it was just the two of us growing up, it seemed as if I was finally crossing the great divide of the five years between us. Twenty-one is drastically different than 16, but 24 is not so distant from 19. I was connecting with him in a more meaningful way than I had for the last several years. It felt good to be becoming a friend, and not just a younger brother.
Andre loved to drive fast. He was in a local racing club, and his little car even had sponsors. I think he came alive behind the steering wheel in a way that I'm sure only he could have expressed. He was also in his early 20's, and anyone in their 30's can attest to what a dangerous time of their lives that was. You're learning what it is to be an adult, but you still want to be a reckless kid. Andre was no exception, and he did not reserve his “need for speed” for the race track. On those back Ontario roads, heck, even on those front Ontario roads, he liked to cut loose. He had, I'm pretty sure on more than one occasion, escaped a speeding ticket by actually outrunning a police car. I know. Wow.
Those in their 30's get to tell such stories while smiling and shaking their heads at how foolish they were at that age, and how God's hand must have been on them to prevent tragedy. I know God's hand was on Andre, too. But it ended differently for him.
Andre had been finding his place in God over the last year of his life. We had grown up in a Christian family, but we had also experienced a lot of frustrating church life. Some of this frustration happened because Dad wouldn't back down from what he believed was right. In retrospect, I think he probably was right much of the time. As Andre got older, he had to sort out the church b.s. from what is the living heart of God.
What gets us through these periods of confusion and frustration is friendship, and for much of Andre's short adult life, he did not have that. Close friends drifted away as life took them in different directions, and some drifted not because of distance, but self-interest. He was left on his own to figure things out.
In the last few months of his life, though, Andre had begun doing carpentry work with a former youth pastor of his. I still don't know what their conversations were like. I've often thought of contacting this man and asking him about that time. Whatever they talked about, I saw a light in Andre's face that I had not seen in a long time. He just seemed so at ease. At peace. Situations weren't bothering him like they did before. He smiled easily, and I felt like he was proud that I was his brother.
And he still loved to drive fast.
That Thursday night was no exception. As far as I know the situation, it seemed that he had been speeding down a back road when a police car spotted him and turned on his flashers to pull him over. Andre had received his share of speeding tickets over the years, which always frustrated the people around him. I think he just didn't want to come home with another one, and knowing that he had done this successfully before, he tried to outrun a police car.
Oh, the foolish things we do when we're 24.
I don't know exactly how the accident happened. One theory I remember hearing was that something on the floor boards rolled underneath the brake pedal while rounding a corner. Most likely, he hit some loose gravel and simply lost control. He slid off the road and into a small tree. He died instantly.
A doorbell rang that night. Mom and Dad went down to answer it, and I remained at the top of the stairs. A police officer was at the door. I don't remember hearing what he said, I just remember hearing my mom crying out and swooning. I heard someone say, “We need to go up and tell Aaron.” But I had already heard.
I stood there in the hall at the top of the stairs. There was a mirror there, and I remember looking at myself and saying, “Andre's dead.” Reality seemed to draw itself away from me, and I had to look into the mirror and say it again. “Andre's dead.” I ran to the farthest room in the small house and collapsed on the floor, crying. “Please, God, wake me up,” I said. “Please wake me up.” I don't recall many details after that.
That was fifteen years ago. Some years the pain is so fresh that it feels like it was last week. Some years it feels like a wound that's healed. Some years are like this one, where it seems there's a healing sweetness in the tears, though they fall all the same.
I suppose I'm still praying for God to wake me up, and I know he will one day. “He's okay,” is what the former youth pastor said at the funeral. “He's perfect.”
Many people, as I've taken my journey into Catholicism, have asked me about the theology surrounding the communion of the saints. “Do you really think dead people pray for you?” No, I don't think dead people pray for me. I think alive people do. On October 28th, 1993, Andre truly came alive behind the wheel.