Our minds are interesting creations. Sometimes I can barely remember what I was doing 5 minutes beforehand, and yet I can distinctly remember crying like a fire hose as a 4 year old pre-schooler when my mom was a whole five minutes late to pick me up from school (she had gotten pulled over for speeding trying not to be late to pick me up, ironically) and all the other kids were already gone. What makes some memories so vivid, and some memories so transient?
I’m not going into any kind of psychological discourse here - I’ve read some stuff about how sensory perceptions (especially smell) can help create discrete memories that last. I just wanted to reflect on the last 3 years of my life - the time since my older brother Oliver passed away. Since then, I’ve graduated from college, moved to Seattle, gotten a “real job,” left the job, went back, gotten laid off last month (more about that in a future post), started dating an amazing girl last year, and so many other “life events” that he wasn’t around to witness.
I often talk about Oliver as a teacher - which he was to his high school science students, but he was also a great teacher to his friends and family.As his younger brother, perhaps I was under his tutelage longer than anyone else. When I was little, as many older siblings have the pleasure of, he took care of me, helped teach me and shaped my world. From preventing a little toddler from bumping my head on a table, to teaching me how to mow the lawn, to helping me understand Calculus in high school, he was always there.
I remember one of the last pieces of advice he gave me was when I was choosing jobs during my last quarter of college. It was between Intuit, based in Mountain View, CA - just 20 minutes from Stanford, and Microsoft - up in the unknown land of Redmond, WA. I told him what I saw as the pros and cons of each, my hopes and fears about both companies, and then asked him: What should I do? As any good teacher knows, you don’t just answer a question with an answer, but you answer it with another question. Basically he told me this: What do you want to do? It’s your decision, I can’t make it for you. You have to follow your gut, trust your instincts. It’s your life, and you’re the one who will live with the consequences (both good and bad) of your decision. It’s a big decision, but it’s not that big. Making a decision doesn’t lock you in for life.
He gave me the freedom to choose. In other cases (like should I buy this new bike or not, or who should I draft first in fantasy football) he gave me concrete advice and a specific recommendation. In this case, I think he wanted me to realize that I was now old enough and mature enough to make my own decision. He was allowing me to grow up. Instead of allowing me to use his advice as crutch, he was empowering me to make my own decisions and trust myself. He believed in me, and he loved me. That was the greatest gift of all.Back to memories - Even though it’s been a long three years in some ways, Oliver still lives stong in my memory. Perhaps some of the periphery details are blurring - what color shirt was he wearing at our grandma’s birthday party - but the important details still stand out.
Just two days ago, I had a dream with him in it. I don’t recall exactly what was going on, but it was a pretty simple dream - we were just hanging out, seeing a movie together, driving around the flat concrete mass that is Houston. It was so normal, just everyday stuff. And that was the beauty of it. It helps me to realize that even though he’s gone, he’s still around. He’s with me everyday.
Instead of trying to chase the moving target of happiness as I am almost always trying to do. I want to sit back, take a deep breath and enjoy today. Celebrate today. My family. My friends. Oliver’s story of supposedly being completely healthy at age 25 (coincidentally my current age), and then being diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and eventually passing away at age 28 reminds me that life is indeed but an eyeblink. Am I enjoying it? Am I making a difference? I know Oliver did. I don’t want to stand still as the eyelid closes. But I also don’t want to be so busy with “stuff” that I forget about what’s most important. People.