On the beach with my brother, talking in social debate as we do, he posed a series of questions concerning how much of a person has to remain for love to continue. A debilitating accident–do you still love him? Of course. No arms, no legs? Don’t be silly. More debilitating events–being mauled by a bear and such, and now he’s just a head, kept talking and feeling and thinking by science–do you still? Yes, absolutely. More misfortune; he’s just a brain, hooked up to a computer that lets him communicate and think and love. My answer is the same–yes, yes, yes.
Okay, my brother says, now the brain has deteriorated, and the entire essence of the man I love is put onto a flash-drive. He can still communicate with me. I can carry him around, plug him into this device or that, and we can talk, reminisce, experience, love. Do I still love him? Yes! But, he asks, do you love the flash drive?
I pause. Good question. I answer with a hesitant but definite, yes. He poses his final question–The flash drive is corrupted. You can no longer communicate. The essence is still in there, but no longer accessible to you. Now do you love the flash drive?
No, I had to admit. I don’t love the flash drive. I said it better on the beach, and wish I could remember my words, but the essence was: Once the vessel no longer services the being, the vessel becomes obsolete. I don’t love the flash drive that no longer houses my love.
This is what I love about conversations with my little brother; we rarely agree, but we always find some common ground (though he’s stubborn and doesn’t think I see his point of view. I always do. Seeing his point and agreeing with it are entirely different things.) Because we don’t agree, I think about the things we discuss long after we’ve parted ways. I pondered this conversation, on and off, the rest of the day. While still on the beach, my brother sleeping in the sun about ten feet to my left, I texted him the above words about the vessel and the being. “Thoughts are forming. I’m going to write something about this.”
After losing arms and legs and body, in bear attacks and horrendous events, the basic question, for me, was this–do I love the physical vessel once it is no longer servicing the person I love. Husband, parent, child, sibling, friend? No. I don’t. How could I bury a husband? Cremate a son? If I still held attachment to the vessel that once housed them. But do I love them still? Every minute of every day.
I’m pretty sure this wasn’t what my brother was getting at. It was more rhetorical, about how much of a person can one lose and still remain “in love” with that person. But, like I said, conversations with him always make me think, and this conversation was like a firecracker under my chair.
As all things do, these days, it comes back to Chris. His vessel was no longer serving him. It became obsolete. It was never the physical son I loved, but the being he is. The essence he will always be, no matter what form that essence takes. I will forever mourn the loss of his smile, his hugs, all the things he never got to do, that life was so hard for him. So painful. These are the physical things that matter for such a short time in the span of forever. I know that. I’ve always known. But this conversation with my brother brought it into sharper focus. It made me cry in every way there is to cry, right there on the beach.