So raise the candles high
Cause if you don't we could stay black against the night
Oh raise them higher again
And if you do we could stay dry against the rain
Lay down lay down, let it all down
Let your white birds smile up at the
Ones who stand and frown
Lay down lay down, let it all down
Let your white birds smile up…
Ah, life. That seems as of late to be my reaction to everything. No- I retract that. I get cocky sometimes, and I occasionally think I've found within myself what many people never find in this life. But I get angry, I get jealous. I once wanted to kill myself. Especially right after what happened to John. But now, after reading what he- what those who looked- found, I stand in the rain, staring at the cloudy sky. His story intertwines with mine, partaking in all inner peace and inner conflict. If only just some chromosomes had been switched at our birth, I may have ended up like him, and him like me. Or maybe neither of us would have taken a breath of life- wonderfully thorny life- and two other faint plots would have unfolded. Maybe two other brothers would have attempted to cross the wild, drowning path that everyone finds themselves approaching at one point, and maybe the Heavens would appear to those who could see.
John was kicking some pebbles in a garden path, and I was walking beside him. We were talking about war. Nothing in particular. Just the ups and downs in killing for land and for the contradicting sake of religion.
His form was lanky for that of a twenty-year-old, and he was staring at the stones he kicked as we walked. "There are things worth dying for," he mused. "All the crucial things you learn in English class. Love, freedom…."
I made an indistinct sound of relative agreement.
"Wonder if anyone would die for me," he mused.
I made an indistinct sound of relative volunteering. Rob Benson of twenty years never said anything of importance, even to his twin.
And then he looked at me. Odd, really. I hadn't seen his eyes in so long. The blue had dulled, and they seemed smaller. "Rob, I want to die," he said hoarsely. "But I need something to die for first."
I looked up in shock. Expecting a joke. His eyes told me to not hold my breath. "What?"
Was this what had been eating at him lately? I shook my head, recalling a time a few days previous, when it had all began. He had started rapidly pouring over literature, in search of something. His soul or love or something.
"You heard me," he snapped. "Life is full of all of these contradictions. Happiness that always ends in tragedy. Love that ends in death. Death that ends in peace. I want to end in peace. I never had any other purpose."
"Don't say that," I said automatically. "John..."
We came to the hill in the garden path. Our cousins' house where we were staying on summer break from college. Him from Harvard, myself from SUNY. John stared down hard at the path. "I'm looking life in the eye," he said, more to himself than to me…Or perhaps to neither of us, but to the hill that sloped out of sight.
"No, you're not. You're trying to be poetic. Just shut up."
He ignored me, and I noted the air was getting slightly chilly for spring air, and the clouds were gathering. But it was still light out, there were still birds. We said nothing for five minutes. I turned from him eventually. "Just get over yourself."
"Maybe that's what I need…" he said softly. I didn't understand him. But he was getting on my nerves. I felt edgy and uncomfortable; like he understood something I didn't and wanted to make a sacrifice; to be a martyr without me just to prove a point. Back in primary together he had been that way, always the know-it-all with intelligence in his eyes and not much else to him. He thought too much. He knew he thought too much, and thought about that, too.
"Look, John, I just don't have time for this," I muttered. He still stood there, his back to mine. My hair began to feel heavy, the air was feeling moist. "It's gonna rain. I'm going back inside." I stormed off in time for the storm. But he stayed out there all night. I wondered why.
I don't know how, but I managed to wipe the incident from my mind until the summer. We both went back home to Virginia, and I found his zeal for everything fascinating and, in a way, intoxicating. I questioned his new-found energy many times, to no avail. Just a small know-it-all smile. I soon found out that he was starting to take his faith seriously. Our family was Catholic, you see, but I found no pointing believing what my family did. I guess he did.
But he didn't say anything. He just stared off into space, into the blankness of time, into his world and mine and back again, and it irritated the heck out of me.
But some strange things happened. He began to talk more. Not everything he said was uplifting, but it was all finalizing. He could settle arguments between my father and I in a heartbeat, he could sum up the tragic workings of a CNN news day in a few sentences, and he could read me like an open book. Not that he hadn't been able to do that already.
In the workings of my next and final college year I managed to forget again. Until my father called up, blubbering like an idiot. It took me a while to work out his words, but when I did, I hung the phone up in silence and went out to get drunk. It wasn't until the hangover the following day that I thought about the fact that John had died.
And it was during another rainstorm that I entered my parents' house, and read a letter he had addressed to me after his death. It made me mad almost, that he had to be all informative and all even after he was no longer-
You're annoyed right now, aren't you? Its okay, I understand. I didn't share anything with you, nothing at all, and that was my fault. I misused my faith, I didn't follow what I was supposed to and yes, I know I am soon to die.
You remember that conversation we had at Cousin Becky's, don't you? I was arrogant and tragic and suicidal, contemplating life and rain droplets and the human purpose.
I found out a week before that conversation that I had lung cancer. I thought at first, well, this is it. Its how I'm going out, I knew I was leaving soon. But I talked to you then, you with your caustic bitter edge, and suddenly wanted more than anything to hold all of our messy and loving memories. That one Christmas where I stole your presents and replaced them with dictionaries. Or that time you got into a fight with Sandy Lorton's ex-boyfriend. They kept playing and replaying and I thought, why am I leaving? I wanted to leave with a bang of learned experience. Fireworks. Maybe there would be a Jonathon Benson day, in memory of the man who cured the common cold before his catastrophic demise.
But I was looking down that hill, and I saw your life. And dad's. And everyone else's. And I found that mind was just another trail of bicycle tracks in the mud. But this somehow made me happy- I realized this and felt like a psychopath.
But, see, there I go again. 'I','I', 'me', 'me'.
The things I'm trying to say to you, my brother- why are these words coming with such difficulty?- is that life isn't always the journey you'd expect it to be. We all either think of life as a happy movie or a sad one, when it might be just quiet, like rain pattering on the tufted grass. We all know we're going to make mistakes and mess up things, and we all feel like we'll accomplish at one point, and make it in the world. And life may be cut off at any moment. But what we do cannot be what is solely of satisfaction to oneself. Then it will cause you no satisfaction at all.
I can see you now. You're frowning and swearing, muttering about how I've left you with some faded lullaby of a selfless moral. The kind you'd find in Playhouse Disney.
In a way, yes.
Rob, we talked about war. I know that, and the topic still causes a bubbling of contemplative words rising within me. Couldn't we just hold candles against the storm of death, and hold on to peace easier than taking away life-? Couldn't humanity find it within itself, like so many of us have found, to show love and compassion and hold to warmth and nature-? But I haven't written to philosophize. You need to form your own opinions and contemplations. But I'll give you some advice, if you'll hear me. Just think about God, about the world he created for you, for the things He's done for you. This letter isn't to preach, and you have to discover this yourself, but He did, after all, make the ultimate sacrifice for all of us. I cannot hope to make the glorious sacrifice of death for the life of sinners, being one myself. I can only tell people of His, and follow what His spirit tells me to do.
Humanity is corrupt, rotting, killing. It has taken a turn for the worse since the story of the garden we all know. We can't be perfect or stop it ourselves, we can't do it on our own. But….
John, you're tiring of my ramblings now. I don't know why words are so hard to come to me right now. The patient in the bed next to me is looking at me funny. I befriended him the other day, he is dying as well.
Walk out into the rain, John. It storms around you like life does, and it has its own bigger purpose. It isn't human, it isn't God.
But think, and open yourself to let peace in. To appreciate every breath of life and every drop of water you have left in your path is much more than many of us ever will do. And God will help you to find the right path, and the right direction to take to intertwine with other paths, so that a net above us all is woven.
It is cold, but I don't wrap my arms around myself. The rain pours in around me, crying the tears of life that my brother and many others did not. He is right, that old know-it-all. Peace is there, we just need to let it in.
The rain is loud as I search to believe, and I hear, with the patter of raindrops, the shrill cry of a white bird.