I am one of five brothers. Our ranks are down to four — my younger brother, Sean, died recently after a sudden illness. He was only in his fifties, an age that sounded positively ancient when we were kids, but now seems far too young.
Hundreds of people showed up for his memorial service. There was a bit of the requisite teary eulogizing, but mostly the day was about remembering what a rollicking, fun character he was.
We grew up in a family where the occasional spanking was not unknown. When we were about to “get it” our Old Man (in his forties) would solemnly say, “Alright, get a stick.” The words sent a chill through all of us – except for Sean who took it as a challenge.
So while the rest of us would try to get by with thin reeds or twigs, Sean would present the gnarliest big stick he could find — preferably one riddled with nails and barbwire. That was Sean — always courageous and unyielding.
He wound up frustrating our dad so much, the Old Man gave up spanking us and just sent us to bed without supper. But that was no problem for Sean, who always kept a huge stash of snacks and candy under his bed.
One time, we came across an old barrel with a locking lid. We realized immediately that it was tailor-made for giving rides. One brother would climb inside, the lid would be secured — and the ride would begin at the top of a short hill in our front yard. One brother would push the barrel off — with the rest of us standing at the foot of the hill to stop it.
Until the day came when we goofed up and, with Sean inside, it got away from us. It careened end over end down a steep gravel embankment, off a small bluff and then finally coming to a thudding climax into a juniper tree.
We ran down to the motionless barrel, terrified at what it contained. But when the lid came off, Sean tumbled out laughing delightedly and eager for another ride. Fearless. Scrambled, but fearless.
In recent years, Sean found great passion for refereeing high school football and basketball games, with a style distinctly his own.
During a particularly tense basketball game, a heckler sitting high up in the stands was really giving it to him. “You miss every call, ref! I can see the game better up HERE, than you can down THERE!”
Finally, Sean blew his whistle and called a timeout. Incidentally, Sean was a very big guy — 6-foot-6, 280 pounds. So when he stopped the game and climbed up into the stands, the guy began shrinking in his seat.
But Sean merely sat down next to him and looked around the basketball court. Then he announced loudly to the crowd: “You know what? He’s RIGHT! You really CAN see the game better up here!”
The place erupted in laughter — and the game resumed. The heckler had been rendered heckleless.
Sean was bigger than life — bigger than three of them — a gentle, if not genteel, giant.
If there is a Heaven, he surely resides there.
And I’ll bet he can see the game better from there, too.