I have always loved my brother, but there were times when I really didn’t understand him. I never let those things get in the way of my love for him, but it did bother me that I couldn’t understand things like why he didn’t bathe regularly.
Now that he’s gone, I wonder why I didn’t try harder to understand. Because it’s pretty obvious that his whole life was about breaking free from cultural norms and saying, “Hey, I don’t have to look (or smell) like you to be awesome and successful at life.”
I know lots of “successful” people, people who “fit in” whose deaths would not create even a tiny splash in comparison to the tidal wave impact of Joey’s death. Why, if I loved him, didn’t I see that? And why didn’t I do more to challenge society myself?
Joey and I grew up with the belief that we should and could make a difference in the world, and I believe he did that. But I wonder if I am making a difference. As naive as it may sound to some, I believe that LOVE is the answer to every problem. I believe that God is LOVE, and that the sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ was the ultimate expression of that LOVE. I believe this, but losing Joey made me realize how little I live this. I loved Joey; I love him still; but LOVE is not just feeling warm and fuzzy. It is active.
Shortly before Joey’s death, I came to the realization that most of my “Christianity” wasn’t really about following Christ. It was about conforming to an idea in my mind of what Christianity was supposed to look like.
If I was really following Christ, wouldn’t that mean spending time with outcasts: outcasts of mainstream culture, and outcasts even of the church? Jesus broke bread with the “publicans and sinners” – those who were considered the scum of the earth, people that mainstream culture of the day wrote off because of their profession or the bad situation in life they were born into. If I was following in his footsteps, wouldn’t that mean accepting and loving people exactly as they are without condition or demands that they become like me?
Joey’s death gave me the opportunity to look at his life, and I realized that whatever he may have professed about religion, he acted more like Christ than I did. He wasn’t perfect, and I’m not trying to pretend he was some kind of saint, but he treated people with respect and kindness. As far as I know, he never walked past a homeless person without looking them in the eye and speaking to them. He made friends with people who didn’t look or act like him all the time. He was an extremely confident person (I mean, he was always “better’n you”), but he didn’t act superior. He really did bring out the best in most of the people around him.
That’s love. That is what my God is about – loving people for who they are, not how they look or act.
I wish I could talk to Joey now, to share these things with him and to tell him how much I love him. In lieu of that, I’m telling you. I love you all. I love you for being you. I hate that I had to lose my brother to meet some of the best people I’ve ever known. People who aren’t scared to be themselves. But I’m so thankful to know you now, and to be able to say that I don’t care if we don’t agree about everything. I don’t care if we don’t look or even smell the same. I just love you.