When I left for Pennsylvania to be with my family, I remembered I had a long drive ahead, and now that I had a working cd player, randomly grabbed three on the way, not really putting much thought into the three – and well here I was. Riding back home on the PA Turnpike, Peter Gabriel’s album, Shaking the Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats, stuck on that line above, memorializing a GREAT man – Steven Biko – and thinking, how much this line, could be applied to so much that has happened in our lives – thinking this and much about leaving Pittsburgh behind me as I left all behind for Delaware.
Funny thing is, in the past – I never truly seemed to find the right time and moment to appreciate how much growing up in PA, as well as the strength that the city of Pittsburgh contains. I realized that the strength, awe, and love I had for Pittsburgh and surrounding areas I grew up in came from the strength of my family. The loss of my spirited, soulful niece Jackie hit me like a ton of dynamite, and had done so even more at her service Saturday. Obviously it had hit my family that had supported Jackie in the last few months, days, and weeks even harder.
My niece, Jackie Barnes, was the exact image of her father, my brother, Harry Randall Brake, and it was an understatement of how proud I am to hold the same name as my brother and father, and for sure, I always tried to have my name live up to the quote written at the beginning of this post in memory of my father, my brother, and the unspoken acts they had taken on in helping others. Stubborn, determined, tough as nails, Jackie certainly had followed in the steps of her father, and Randy’s father, as well as my sister Lisa, and family members we have lost and come together as a family over.
I remember taking in the parts of Tarentum, New Kensington, Natrona Heights, Pittsburgh I had not see, the bridges, the alleys, the plants, the breathtaking views of the rivers, all of it. It all took in new meaning this time around as the impact of having such a tough family that has weathered tougher times, it all would mean little and have less impact had it not been for the family I had been raised in.
As we were sitting down eating together following Jackie’s service, while we were taking in the soulful message of Dru’s tribute to Jackie, breaking down Jackie to a “T”, hearing Forever Young and The Band Perry delve down and bring back Jackie’s life in so many ways and place her in front of us one more time, it was all alot to take in. I did not expect for the losses of my cousin Trenton, father, Harry, brother Harry, my sister Lisa, it all came back in waves of how many losses have come in such a short time and yet…
…as I looked from brother to brother, sister, to niece, nephew, and more- our whole family, it is unmistakable to see the faces of my Dad, niece, nephew, cousin in our family. The determined success and hard work that my sisters, brothers, nephews, nieces, had put in and had made their lives be that flame Peter Gabriel referred to, they had done it and then some.
It always seemed to me, the gift we never saw coming was the ability to have the hearts of our family live on in each other,from being passed the talents to represent their lives, their names in everything we did in our own lives. It is so incredibly easy to do nothing, lament, walk in sorrow and not carry on, especially when grief at times can be so overwhelming. Yet, when we do find the strength from our family to do so, the lives of our family who are not physically here among us, seems to reside in our lives even stronger in our hearts if we left them. That had always been the hope I had to honor their lives through my own, through our own.
It is odd that sometimes through the losses we have, we come to realize the strengths we have come to overlook. Driving errands on Sunday, and hearing Forever Young specifically come on the radio, NEVER hearing this usually and now the timing being the exact time I did not expect it, it made me pause right in the middle of the road. Sometimes, when someone is so on your mind, I think you can discount coincidence, and I did that on this particular occasion. I ran through my checklist of thoughts mentioned above again, and amid so much loss, celebrated the family I had come out of, and it was easy to see, how much I am bias in being angry at the losses that impacted our family as of late. If I wasn’t bias, I’d have a hard time tying it to my family, not wanting my family to receive those losses – and at the same time, I was continuing to be at a loss, for the losses of students, colleagues, other family’s and the losses they were experiencing of late.
At times, the sense of loss impacts me when I would wake up in the AM, have a knowing list of “to-do’s” and not get to any except one, a victim of losses it seemed. It was difficult to realize at one time how fast a day can slip by your reach without grasping on to the to-do’s you hoped to catch.
Among all of the despair that many of use have had to work through lately, I realized the seemingly coincidence of a song that I had not heard for years reappearing again within days, the chance of a particular line of a song in a cd that I had not picked up for years rang true all of a sudden now, the revisitation among family at not the best of reasons or times, still reinforced the strength of family and friends in times that truly weaken your body. It is in times like these, more than any other, the very individuals we have lost and miss the most, live through us based on the will we have to let their heart, soul, and dreams continue to live through each of us. I have bene lucky to have a family and friends surround me that allow me to continue to do that every single day, through the worst of times and the very best of times.
That seems to have been the best gift ever passed on to me, that I realize more and more every single year. If I pay close enough attention, as I am celebrating the lives and what they have given to the world, I find threads of my own friends and family, that have done the same in ways many might never know, but that our families do.