My portable GPS device seemed to know where I was even I didn’t. All I could see were the lights from other cars in the blackness of the night. I was tired and tense. I wanted to get myself, my wife and the rental car back to the airport in Jacksonville, Florida, before something went wrong. To do this, I had to trust a mysterious voice at each turn in the road. How could it pierce the darkness? It was like the voice of God telling me what lay two miles ahead.
My mind was unsettled. You make plans, and God laughs. Certainty becomes uncertainty. I needed a GPS device that would tell me where my brother George had gone. He was alive a month ago. Now he was dead. I had sat through his funeral that morning at Jacksonville National Cemetery and heard the mournful sound of “Taps.” I had seen the small wooden box containing his ashes placed in a columbarium niche and the faceplate screwed into place.
How could my brother, a big, strapping guy, and his 84 years of living be in that small box? What had become of the corporate executive who had led company operations in Spain, Brazil and Japan? Where had become of his thoughts and memories, his dreams and ambitions? What had happened when the life switch suddenly went off?
There were no prayers at the service, no priest, no guide to the afterlife. The former Catholic altar boy had left the church decades ago for reasons he never revealed, his son said in a eulogy. A minute of silence would be appropriate. The green grass and nearby pond looked peaceful. Two military honor guards conducted the flag-folding ceremony with precision and dignity. My brother had served in the Army during the Korean War, but he had not gone overseas. Family members were surprised that he had wanted a military funeral.
Young relatives spoke of George’s warmth and humor. I recalled a distant, sterner figure. He was 15 years older than I and was gone from the house during most of my childhood. When I was in college, he made occasional visits from his home 90 miles away. I believe my mother instigated these trips, perhaps hoping he could play a parental role. I recall strained conversation at uncomfortable lunches. He did, however, buy me a small, Honda 90 motorcycle to enhance my social life. During the Vietnam War, when I was in trouble with the government, he gave my mother money to pay my lawyer’s bills. We never talked about that.
My oldest brother, Ambrose, died in 2008 at the age of 79. He was the first of my three brothers and four sisters to die. George, the second child, was the second to die. “Now we are six” was a line I heard several times at the funeral.
The trip through the Jacksonville night Friday ended without mishap, and without answers to life’s big questions. Maybe there aren’t any. It’s nice to see the sun and a blue sky this morning.