A Profile In Courage


Twenty-two years ago I stood in the Catholic Church on Main Street in Port Jefferson and welcomed a frisky little boy into the local Catholic community. Brian's parents, like most young parents, were ecstatic that ...

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Twenty-two years ago I stood in the Catholic Church on Main Street in Port Jefferson and welcomed a frisky little boy into the local Catholic community. Brian's parents, like most young parents, were ecstatic that Sunday afternoon at having their firstborn baptized.

That little boy grew up to be an outstanding young adult. As a newborn and throughout his life, Brian had a way about him that was warm and loving. His smile and joyful laugh from his heart would light up a room. His gentleness empowered him to find the goodness in everyone. He never had a bad word to say. Brian had a special way with people. He had a unique capacity to touch your heart and make you feel good, even if you felt sad.

Brian loved life. He loved his family and friends. He cherished gathering together for holidays and special family moments. He was passionate about life and sucking all the nectar from it. He treasured being at the center of a good party and would do almost anything to make people laugh and have fun. He loved to play pranks and horseplay with his Dad. He would do anything to create a good laugh, even if it was at the expense of his Dad. He and his family were closer than most.

When Brian was ten, he and his parents faced every family's nightmare. This dynamic young man was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. At that moment, his life was forever changed. He began a journey that would touch the heart and soul of everyone who came in contact with him.

Most little boys facing that kind of illness would probably withdraw and even shut down. Brian did the opposite. He was determined, even at the age of ten, to live life to the fullest and not let his cancer win. For almost eleven years, this courageous young man won.

He was a profound example of courage and tenacity. Throughout his complicated hospitalizations, surgeries and medical procedures, Brian never complained. He never expressed bitterness or anger. He always believed that there was a reason for his challenges. He was determined to face them head on and transcend them.

No matter what the human inconvenience and discomfort, Brian always looked for the brighter side. He always enfleshed hope, even when it was hard to be hopeful.

Over twenty years had passed since I first saw that frisky little boy that I baptized on a Sunday afternoon. A little over a year ago, I received a call that Brian wanted to meet to talk. I knew of his long battle with cancer. I wrongly assumed that he wanted to talk about death and the last stages of death and dying.

When we met, I encountered a young man much wiser than his years. He was a young man of profound wisdom and insight. Brian wanted to talk, but not about death and dying. He had already processed those issues. Rather, he wanted to talk about how he could better live his life with whatever time he had left. He wanted to live his life more fully and in the process help others.

Brian really believed that there was a positive reason for his being challenged with his illness. During his twelve-year struggle, he never complained or became bitter. He was courageous beyond description.

He never asked "why me?" He just wanted to hear the truth about his illness and his chances for getting well.

During the last twelve years, he had two major remissions. A little more than a year ago, the cancer re-occurred. The last ten months was the greatest battle of his war to wellness. On October 18th, Brian's body stopped working. His heart failed.

Over the next number of days, hundreds upon hundreds of people from every age and walk of life came out to express their profound sense of loss. People waited on line for almost an hour to share stories and express their gratitude and condolences to Brian's parents and young brother.

At twenty-two, this John Jay College student had touched more people in his short life than many of us who are three times his age. Since his passing, there have been countless stories of the compassion, generosity, wit, humor and charm of a courageous young man who had every reason to be bitter and angry.

During this past year, as Brian endured unbearable suffering, he taught so many of us how to live. He faced his suffering not as a burden, but rather as an opportunity to grow and reach out to others. You could not help but feel richer for having connected with him.

Often in the printed media we read countless stories of the reckless behavior of our young people. In recent times, we have seen an escalation of hate, violence and bigotry. Brian's life is a sharp contrast to that troubled picture. He was a college student studying criminal justice who desired to give up his life to public service. He endured countless challenges to the quality of his life and never gave up. He would not allow others to feel sorry for him or take pity at his circumstance. He was a fighter to the end.

Every so often you are privileged to meet a human being who enfleshes the virtues and values you pray will develop within your children. Brian was that and more. He was grounded in integrity. He was compassionate, loving, forgiving, understanding, witty and insightful beyond his years. When you spent time with him, you left each conversation feeling that you had gotten more than you gave. There was a sparkle in his eyes, even when he was in tremendous pain that would touch your heart.

As he embraced the last chapter of his life, in his dying Brian taught us about living. He lived every moment to the fullest. He hoped that his life would be of value to another and possibly the reason that another young person would not have to walk down his road. His spirit was electric and his heart for others knew no limits.

Some people come into our lives and quietly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never the same.

Brian, thanks for the footprints!