The Martyr


Mary Gordon

   Some people think I should have stopped him. But anyone who knew the two of us would have known that there was never the remotest chance of that. James was older, my big brother. He was the one with power, the strong one.

   No one was surprised when he entered the seminary right after high school, although they were surprised at his choice of orders. He’d been at the top of his class at his Jesuit high school, and because he was at the top of his class, everyone assumed he’d join the Jesuits. But from the beginning, he wanted to be a medical missionary, so he joined the Society of St. Luke—the Lucans, they were called by their familiars—who trained their priests as doctors, mostly to be sent to remote places in Africa or South America.    He left for St. Luke’s seminary in September of 1967. It wasn’t far away from our home in Cleveland—no more than three hours, even if there was traffic outside of Pittsburgh—but we rarely saw him in those years. Close contact with the family was not encouraged, and quite soon we realized he wasn’t really comfortable with our visits.    It was a strange place, that seminary, but the times were strange: something was so clearly coming to a violent end and what was being born was hard to grasp.    Never have I known a place so out of synch with its time; it suggested not only that time and place were two different categories, but also that there was no connection between them at all. When James entered the seminary, it was a time with a mania for tearing down, simplifying, substituting glass for stone, the emphasis on light and lightness. But everything about St. Luke’s was heavy; the trees made it their business to shut out light; the rooms were small and windowless, the closets only gestural. It had been built in the ‘20s, and it could house a hundred seminarians, but when James entered, there were only eight in residence and by the time he left, only four. The floors in the long corridors were covered by a linoleum that was surprisingly buoyant, and walking on it, you couldn’t help wanting to bounce. But no one bounced there; everyone walked thoughtfully, with their eyes down, as if they were enacting the rule of the order: Healing and Prayer. Scattered throughout the lawns, which were bordered by serious oaks and hickories insisting on their own rectitude, were white statues of the Virgin Mary and saints, many of whom I could not name. But no one prayed to them; saints were out of fashion in those years, and the Virgin Mary seemed almost comically out of place in this environment of high minded, scientifically accomplished masculinity.    We would drive there as a family every two months, my mother packing elaborate picnics. I think the fried chicken we ate, sitting on my father’s old army blanket on those spacious lawns, was the best I ever ate. There always seemed to be strawberries, although that’s not possible; we often came in fall or winter, and we couldn’t have picnicked on the lawn in those cold months. James made a point of not remarking about the food; it seemed to me he stopped himself from eating as much as he wanted, and he asked for plain water instead of the lemonade my mother had lovingly squeezed because, in his former life, he had so enjoyed it.    We weren’t used to going places together, so these trips always seemed a little unnatural, a little forced. We had gone on a family vacation only once, and it had been a failure. My parents had taken a cottage on the Jersey shore. I don’t know what they could have been thinking. My father went to the beach fully dressed; well, he didn’t wear a jacket and tie; he compromised enough to wear khaki trousers and a short-sleeved shirt, but he never took his shoes and socks off. And my mother resented having to do everything she had to do at home…only it was more difficult; you had to drive through terrible traffic to what my mother called “the used food store;” there was often no hot water, and the sand we tracked in drove my mother around the bend. All fair skinned, we suffered as a family from bad sunburn, which we thought of as a plague that had afflicted us rather than the product of our own unwisdom. After that, until James entered the seminary, we never went anywhere. I alone inherited my parents’ instinct for stasis; James died on another continent, and my sister Terry only inhabits the pied a terre she owns in Philadelphia, as she says, to do her laundry and get the right seasonal clothes for her next trip. The most adventurous thing I ever did was to rent a villa in a small village in Tuscany for my wife’s and my twenty-fifth anniversary. My sister joined us, as she was living in Rome at the time, and I could see that my children, both in college, were marveling that someone so highly colored shared DNA with their dull old man.    My father felt overawed at the prospect of his son’s potential priesthood; my mother never kept it to herself that she thought it was a bad idea. My sister, Terry, who was between James and me, each of us only a year apart, was the family satirist. On our visits to see James, her chief pleasure was pointing out each absurdity, each example of screaming bad taste along the highway, in the diner where we stopped for burgers, above all on the seminary grounds and buildings. She was a keen photographer and always seemed to have a camera hanging around her neck; later she would turn professional, famous for unflattering, mildly scandalous celebrity shoots.    On one of our trips to the seminary, when she saw James standing beside a traffic sign that said, “One Way,” she insisted he stand there till she had taken several shots. Then, finding another sign that said, “One Way, Do Not Enter,” she made me stand beside it. Everyone praised her for her wit, but I was hurt. Of course I knew I wasn’t a good candidate for the priesthood, there was nothing in me that had an appetite for it, but I felt the slight at this being so clearly legible, and of course I understood it as a judgment on my inferiority in relation to my big brother. I was always the butt of the family jokes, the careful one, the collector (my treasured stash of out-of-state license plates was a particular occasion for joint hilarity).    I never understood what James was doing when he was doing what was called praying. I understood praying when you were doing it out loud with other people, but when it was time for what was called ‘silent prayer,’ I just let my mind wander, and I’m sure it showed on my face. But James’ face looked like he was hard at work on something, and I couldn’t imagine what it was. I did know that the way people looked at him when he was in church, particularly after Mass when he stayed behind as the last were straggling out, was something I would never have. Awe was the only word for it. I would never inspire awe. It seemed to be the element James swam in, a river creature glimpsed only by chance, for a moment that you felt was stolen, precious, rare.    My mother didn’t want James to be a priest; she thought being unmarried was a bad thing for a man, but she was glad he was training to be a doctor, and she talked in a way that mortified the rest of us, especially my father, about what a good deal it was that the order was paying for medical school. “Thousands of dollars they’re saving him. It’s the offer of a lifetime.”    But whatever their separate feelings about James’ “vocation,” when he left the seminary, my parents were joined in their distress and shame. Vocation—we called it that, and were told always that the root was vocare, to call: the priest or sister had been called by God, something like one of those whistles that dogs can hear but that the rest of us are deaf to.    Every time we went to visit him at the seminary, another of James’ friends had left. James was stern in his disapproval: “They wanted a comfortable life. A house with a picket fence.” I was younger than James, only a teenager, but I wanted to say, “It’s not the picket fence they want. It’s sex. It’s a family. They want human connection. Just because you don’t want it doesn’t mean it’s not a good thing.” But of course I never said anything like that.    One day—it was late May; I was just home from college—he simply arrived on the doorstep, not wearing his clerical black, but in chinos and a short-sleeved red and blue plaid shirt. “I’ve come home,” he said and went to his room to put his things down. My parents were silent; my sister was off somewhere, so it was only the three of us, and my mother composed a ham salad with the focus and intensity of someone constructing a skyscraper. We waited for him to speak, and when he did, he said, “I can’t be a priest anymore; I’ve lost my faith. I hope to do good in the world by being a doctor.” He took a long gulp of milk from the glass my mother had poured for him—no one suggested beer or wine or Coca Cola—and then made his way downstairs. “I’ll rely on your hospitality until my residency begins. June 18th. I’ll be given housing; it’s connected to the program.”    He would go out early in the morning for long and, I imagined, punishing runs. I noticed that his showers were very short; I wondered if he even used hot water. No one spoke much to him; we kept away from him, as if he was somehow contagious, or at least he believed he was. After dinners that were an anguish of tense non-conversations, we watched the news. And then he took himself to his room, kissing my mother on the top of her head and nodding at my father and me—just to let us know he understood that we were in the room.    After he’d been there a week, the doorbell rang, and a burly man—I guessed him to be in his middle forties—with a grey crew cut, the same chinos James wore, a shirt that looked like it had been ordered from the same catalogue, only it was green and yellow rather than James’ red and blue, said “I’m Father Shaughnessy” to my mother, who backed away from him as if he were a large truck that she was hoping would leave her upright if she kept out of its path. “I was hoping to have a word with James. I was his novice master.”    Novice master. It was one of those phrases that, like the architecture of the seminary, seemed to have no place in the modern world, no meaning even, and yet was intensely meaningful to the people who might have thought of using it, as the buildings of the seminary—with names like refectory and parlor—served the function of sheltering the seminarians, feeding them, entertaining their guests.    My mother sent me to get my brother. I could see he’d been sleeping, though it was three in the afternoon.    “Someone’s here to see you.”    “I know.”    “What should I tell him?”    “Nothing. Tell him nothing. I’ll come down.”    I had a hard time interpreting James’ expression as he walked down the stairs and confronted Father Shaughnessy. Was he abashed, ashamed, or defiant? He hesitated a moment, and in the hesitation, Father Shaughnessy took a big step towards him and enclosed him in an embrace whose force was clear to everyone in the room. None of us liked it, all of us wanted him to let go of James, but of course we never would have said it. He was so much larger than James that none of us could see his face.    “I’m going to take this young man out for the biggest, greasiest hamburger this town can provide. What would you suggest?”    “Oh, father, I’d be glad for you to join us for dinner,” our mother said.    “Not-a-tall, not-a-tall, wouldn’t dream of imposing,” Father Shaughnessy said.    “Buckeye Diner has the best burgers,” my father said, and then James and Father Shaughnessy were gone, and the sound of the car driving up the street made us all feel frightened.    James didn’t come home until one in the morning. We heard him vomiting in the bathroom. It happened several times during the night. None of us said anything in the morning, neither about the vomiting, nor the visit, nor even what James’ plans for the rest of the day might be. He asked for plain tea and then made his way back to his room.    And after a week, he was gone, and, although we would never have said it aloud, my parents and I felt relief. When someone is so self-contained in his distress, so pointed, like a flint arrowhead of sorrow—everyone around him can only feel unworthy: formless, pointless, vague.    But when I speak this way, I make James sound inhuman, always difficult to be with, and he was not. He was always kind and always patient. He would spend hours playing catch with me; he taught me to ice skate. He had a nickname for me, which only he used. “Tomtom,” he would call me and pretend to play a drum on my head. And of course, if I had a cut or a scrape or a bruise, he was the one I went to; my mother was undone by the sight of blood, and my father never seemed to be around when those kinds of things happened. I always felt safe around him.    And he wasn’t serious all the time. He loved fart jokes, for example; I can remember him getting almost sick from laughing at fart jokes. I can’t remember any of the jokes, and I can’t remember the sound of his laughter. Saying that makes me very sad. Usually when I think of James, everything seems so inevitable, so much a product of fate that ordinary sadness seems quite out of place.    He did his residency in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. It was far enough from our home in Ohio that it didn’t seem unusual—given a resident’s schedule, up to 80 hours a week—that he almost never came home. He told us that he felt it a duty to volunteer to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas as he didn’t have family obligations. “What are we then…someone he just met on a bus?” my mother asked, piqued and disappointed at what she perceived as his carelessness. But she never said anything like that to James.    He did a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Hopkins and immediately applied for a job at the headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva. He lived in Geneva until his death.    He came home once a year—not at Christmas or Thanksgiving, as he said travelling on those days was hideous, but late in June for a week. He said the only holiday he really liked was Fourth of July. He adored fireworks, and he loved barbecues—which, he said, were really hard to come by in chilly and excessively formal Switzerland.    James was in Switzerland involved in his important work, my sister was always travelling, so of course it fell to me to care for our parents. I never left Cleveland, and after I married and our first child was born, my wife and I bought a house only fifteen minutes from where they lived. My father died quickly of a heart attack, but my mother suffered from Alzheimer’s and required a lot of care. My wife took on a lot of the burden, but the whole family paid the price. It never occurred to anyone that James or my sister would be a part of her care; everyone understood it was simply impossible. No, that’s not true: my wife didn’t understand. My wife was resentful. “It’s perfectly fine to be creating programs to prevent dysentery in Namibia as long as someone else is cleaning up your mother’s shit.” She didn’t enjoy James’ company, and when he came for his annual July visit, things were tense between them, and I made a point of going out to bars with him, just the two of us, although I don’t think we really talked about anything important. I asked her why she didn’t resent my sister as she did James, why she seemed to enjoy her company. “Oh, for God’s sake, Tom,” she said. “Don’t you see the difference? Terry comes to visit, and she makes a point of bringing me a fabulous gift, something I wouldn’t even have thought of for myself but that made me incredibly happy. Like those black silk pajamas. Or the moisturizer whose main ingredient was caviar. And—aren’t you paying attention?—we always go for a spa day when she’s here. Don’t you see the difference? Terry sees me, she acknowledges that I’m here, she’s grateful, and she tells me so. James just thinks I’m one of the help.”    There was nothing I could say in response to that. I knew it wasn’t true because I knew James. I knew that he withdrew from my wife because he was guilty at his own lack of responsibility for my mother’s care. But he didn’t make it easy—she was right, he never seemed to address her directly, or look at her when he made a general comment. One night when she’d had too much to drink she said, “So what is it with you and sex, James, are you gay or straight? Or nothing?”    “Not gay. Not nothing. I pay for sex. Nothing seedy, nothing, I think, exploitative. Geneva is chock-a-block full of high-class escort services. The women are well paid, their health and safety are insured; I pride myself on my gentlemanly conduct, and so I’m given preferential treatment. Many of the women are quite well educated and do this work as a choice. Haven’t you heard of the term ‘sex work’? I think the term is perfectly appropriate, perfectly acceptable. They provide a service, and they do it well. There’s nothing wrong. They want money, and I want sex.”    I ended the conversation with a firmness and decisiveness that surprised them both. “I think that’s quite enough of that,” I said, banging my fist on the table. And remarkably, they both went quiet.    James phoned me before he left for Guinea to explain what he was about to do. He was going to set up a field hospital in a part of Guinea that, even before the epidemic, was so underserved that medical work there was always a crisis, and there was no structure in place that could be built on. He was the only doctor; the rest were nurses and ordinary people from the area who’d been given last minute training.    It was the height of the Ebola Crisis, but it hadn’t yet received the media attention it would get when an American doctor was infected and the hysteria began. So I asked the question that I know disappointed him: “Do you have to go, James? You’re not as young as you once were…isn’t this the job for a younger man?”    He just went silent for a while, and I got the sense that he was tempted to hang up on me. When he spoke, his voice was drained of warmth; it was dry and impersonal, as if he were lecturing a particularly obtuse student, and doing it only out of a sense of obligation. “I don’t understand why you would suggest I shouldn’t be going. Tens of thousands of people have already died, and we at WHO are partly to blame: we didn’t respond quickly enough. And it’s not like I’m the only one…hundreds of people have volunteered…to say nothing of the African medical personnel who have been there from the beginning, risking their lives, using all their skills day after day for months. Compared to what they are doing, what they’ve done, what I’m doing is very small. And why not me? I should go precisely because I’m not young, because I’ve had my life, I’ve had my run, and it’s been a pretty good one. And I have no important human attachments. There’s only you, little brother, and you have so many attachments that losing me will be only a minor sorrow for you, and a temporary one.”    “That’s not true, Jimmy,” I said. “It’s just not true.” I was crying, and I knew that he could tell that, even over the phone, and I knew he would dislike my breaking down.    “Oh, but it is, Tomtom,” he said. “You know it is.”    I felt hurt, chastened and hurt, as my mother had been hurt when he said he wasn’t coming home for Christmas because he had no attachments. “But I am attached to you, my brother,” I wanted to say. And yet there was no way that I could suggest that he shouldn’t go because of me. The crisis was so huge, and in comparison, my need of him seemed so minor as to be unworthy even of note.    I think my last words to him were, “Good luck.”    A friend of James, a Nigerian woman whom he worked with in Geneva, called to tell me the circumstances of his death. It was not the disease that killed him.    “It was terrible, very terrible. James and the others—the others who were all African—were first stoned and then hacked up with machetes. It was terrible in itself, but part of the terrible story of misunderstanding nourished by centuries of injustice and cruelty and exploitation and deprivation. The villagers had seen the doctors taking away people whom the doctors said were sick, and then their people never came back: they were told they had died in the hospital. But they believed that the doctors took them to the hospital just to kill them. You understand that we would prefer not to make the details public…no good could come of that. I hope you agree with that, Tom, I hope you will go along with our wishes. I believe it was what James would wish. He loved Africa so much, his heart was full of love for Africa and its people.”    I didn’t know what that could mean, to have a heart full of love for a continent, a love for a people not one’s own, a love that was greater than the kind of love based on what he would have called “attachments.” But I knew that she was right, and I said I agreed with her that no good would come of making the terrible story public, that I knew that was what James would want.    What do you do with a story like my brother James’? How do you think of it, or not think of it? How do you prevent the images that flash in front of your eyes in the middle of the night or in those moments before sleep and waking…those moments that make you pray that you will not wake? What do you do when you bear, not only the loss of someone you love, but the burden of a secret that weaves itself, the simple fact of the death, like a complex, highly colored embroidery sewn into a plain white cloth.    What do you do? You live your life. You go on with your work. You love your wife, your children…you forget, in the joy of the birth of grandchildren, that James’ story is a sign of something that would make you wish the children had never been born. And you try to forget the conversation you had with your brother, when he explained why he chose to live as he did.    It was fifteen years ago, so I was 50 and James was 52. I had been sent to Geneva, to the very WHO that employed James, because I am a hydrologist; my work is creating systems that provide safe water, drinkable water, in places where this is a life or death issue. James met me at the airport. I stayed at his flat; I wasn’t surprised at how austere it was, how simple, but I was impressed by the beautiful pieces he had: the African masks, the intricately woven baskets, the indigo and white textiles he had framed and hung on his white walls. He had a small dinner party for me; it seems his friends—couples who worked for the Organization, two Swedes, a Ghanaian married to an Italian—knew about me, knew the names and ages of my children, talked about the barbecues and the fireworks on the Fourth of July.    The Ghanaian woman—her name was Cecelia—said, “Of course, this one here. This stubborn one, this one who has no words would never tell you, but he’s very proud of you. He says that you do the work that is the most important in the world, that has the most far-reaching consequences with the least possible harm. And he loves your hamburgers.” She poked his forearm with a fork and said. “Ah, yes. Well done. Au point.”    “Thank you, Cecelia. Cecelia thinks I’m one of those ventriloquist’s dummies, and she’s the live human who needs to speak for me.”    “I don’t think, James, I know.”    He poked her forearm with the fork and said, “Well done. Au point.”    It made me so happy to see that he had private jokes with someone. It made me feel less worried for him.    It was a surprisingly pleasant, even playful evening. James and I were clearing the table and doing the dishes; it was peaceful and fraternal, and we both enjoyed the tasks, which brought back the sweet times of our childhood without the complications of distorting or misleading words.    “Did you ever wonder why I left the seminary?” he asked. “I mean, did you ever talk about it in the family?”    I felt free, as I rarely did with James, or with anything having to do with him, to say what I believed. “Yes, of course I wondered, and no, we never talked about it.”    James laughed and drank the remaining quarter glass of wine that someone had left at the table. I wasn’t sure whether it was his, but I guessed that, given his work, he wouldn’t be worried about germs left behind by guests in the safe haven of Geneva.    “That’s what I thought. That’s exactly what I thought. That you would wonder and they would never speak. Would you like to know, little brother? Or would you prefer not to?”    “Of course I want to know,” I said. “Why would you think I wouldn’t?”    “Because in my experience, people infinitely prefer either delusion or erasure to hard truths. But I’ve always believed you were exceptional.”    “I am exactly the opposite of exceptional,” I said. “I have the distinction of being the only unexceptional one among my siblings.”    “You probably need to believe that for your own reasons.”    “Go on, James, please,” I said.    “I was doing my pediatrics rotation. It was one of those times…oh, I guess my life was mainly made up of those times, when everything seemed to fit into place, where everything had meaning, and the meaning had its center in my faith in God, in the daily practice of my religious life…my belief that as a priest in training and a doctor in training, I was uniting the important aspects of the world, bringing meaning and coherence to both action and contemplation, what we called the vita activa and the vita contemplativa. When I think of what a smug bastard I was then…oh, God, how could any of you stand me for a minute. I can’t imagine now. But at the same time, I must tell you…it was wonderful…it was a wonderful way to live. I believed I was connected to the source of love, to the source of meaning, and each day, several times a day in the prayers of the community…well, it was like I was plugged into some endlessly replenishing source. And then I would go to the hospital, and mostly, I could help people, and the ones I couldn't…somehow, it was all bearable because I could plug into the source, and it was much much more lively than the sadness, the destruction I saw at the hospital. I was at peace.    "One night, the EMTs brought in a little girl…she was just about to turn eight. She was perfectly well formed, I can’t say whether she was lovely or plain because she was dead on arrival, and it wasn’t the sort of thing I registered. She had been brought in by her grandmother and her mother. I was working along with the doctor who did the intake. I was surprised that the mother and the grandmother didn’t seem more shattered. Then I realized: they were defensive. They were trying to defend themselves.    ”‘We didn’t mean for this to happen,’ the mother said. ‘No one meant for this to happen.’    “I can see the mother and the grandmother as clear as clear: they looked gilded, as if they’d been dipped in gold paint. Their hair was identical: stiff helmets that looked like they were made of spun gold. Their skin was a golden bronze. They must have done something, used some makeup or gone to some tanning place to achieve the color they did. They each wore a gold bangle bracelet and a gold chain around their necks, and they were both dressed completely in white, probably because it was so hot.    "The grandmother did the talking. She said it was her birthday, and she’d been given a box of candy, ‘The largest Godiva box, a gift from a dear friend, quite costly.’ I can hear her voice; I wish I could get it out of my head but I can’t. She said she went to take a piece after dinner, and it was nearly three quarters gone, and she knew Stacy had been at it. ‘I just wanted her to admit it. I just wanted her to apologize…’ I can hear her saying that over and over. And then she said, ‘Stacy just wouldn’t apologize,’ so she told her that she was doing what she was doing for her own good because if she kept eating candy like that…oh God, I remember her words exactly, ‘You’re going to get as fat as a house…if you keep up like this with sweets, you’re going to need a lot of exercise to keep any kind of shape.’ So she told the child she had to run around the house until she apologized, and then the grandmother would tell her she could stop. It was the middle of June; it was at least 90 degrees. When she saw Stacy collapse, lying on the ground, she said, she just thought she was ‘being dramatic.’ ‘You have to understand, that was the kind of child she was, always demanding attention, never satisfied, never admitting she did anything wrong.’ She said that Stacy could have had her permission to stop any time, all she had to do was admit her guilt, say she’d taken the candy, but that was the kind of stubborn child she was, she just wouldn’t admit she was in the wrong. That was one of the things she said, one of the things I can’t get out of my mind. In the wrong. I could only imagine this child trapped in some kind of tar pit, a pit of wrongness, stuck, and imagining there was no way out.    "Finally, the grandmother began to cry when she saw we weren’t sympathetic to her. ‘I was just doing it for her own good, I was just doing it for her own good. No matter what anybody says, nothing is more important than looks for a woman. You can’t be desirable if you’re fat; if you’re fat, no one will choose you. If you don’t watch your weight, you’re setting yourself up for a life of misery.’    "The daughter took her hand and the two of them sat, holding each other’s hands, sobbing. ‘No one understands,’ the daughter said, ‘no one understands.’    "Then the police came…and they were taken away. And then they were released. Nothing happened to them; no charges were filed. The child’s death was called an accident.    "I don’t know how I got home…how I got into my pajamas and got into bed. All I know is that the next morning, I couldn’t get out of the bed, and when I didn’t wake up for breakfast, one of my classmates came to the door. And he told me later I was just rolled up into a ball and when he tried to wake me, I hissed at him and scratched at him ‘like some kind of wild animal,’ he said.    "But that was wrong, I wasn’t a wild animal. I was a dying animal, an animal who wanted to be left alone to die.    "Oh, people were sympathetic. I got a lot of what you would call ‘support.’ The novice master prayed with me. The psychiatrist tried to listen, but I didn’t want to speak.    "Because there was nothing to be said. There was nothing to be said then and there will never be anything to be said.    "I tried to pray… but really I didn’t want to pray. There was no kind of prayer for what I had seen. Even the psalms of rage, the songs of lamentation—they suggested a possibility of one to whom prayers were addressed. The novice master said that I must be patient, sit in my sorrow and wait for the word of God to penetrate. But this is what I would not do. This is what I would never do. I believed then, and I believe it now…that even to hope for meaning, to speak words that hoped for meaning, was a betrayal of that little girl Stacy, whose death could have no meaning. And I refuse, at least, to betray that child. At least I console myself that I have given up the possibility of religious consolation…oh and sometimes I am tempted to return to it…but I will not, I refuse, and if it’s a cause of sorrow, to avoid that sorrow would be to refuse the only thing I can do for them: to witness the meaninglessness of their suffering.”    I knew it was my job to be taking in everything that he said. But there was so much to it, and there were so many parts. There was the horror of the situation, the despair about what human beings could do. But there was more. He was talking about crisis, and I have never been religious. Oh, I did all the things, First Communion, Confirmation, but it was only to go along, only not to upset people: I didn’t hate doing it, it just didn’t mean anything, and so it was easy to give it all up…an area of life I just wasn’t going to be part of…as if I were tone deaf and grateful to stop pretending that listening to music was something it made sense for me to do. I tried to make analogies: my love for my wife, my love for my children, my joy in nature, moments when the goodness and beauty of the world simply overcome me, but I knew that James had experienced something whose dimensions were completely beyond me, and so whose loss was incomprehensible. And I knew that nothing on earth—no human connection, no human endeavor—could ever replace that loss, and so what other people might see as the poverty, the emptiness of his life, I saw at that moment as inevitable, and inevitably right. And I remembered that the word “martyr” had its roots in the Greek word for witness. And so my brother was a martyr, a martyr to something…if only to his own idea of himself, and there was nothing I could do to help, and I would have to live with that.    What do you do with a story like James’? Mostly you try to keep it from your mind. And mostly I do. Only today, when I read that there might be another outbreak of Ebola, I couldn’t keep it away.    I would like to tell James that I have been signed and marked by being his brother, that I love him in a way that I have loved no one else, because my love is heightened, deepened, illumined, by admiration for a person who I know is exceptional, exceptional as I am not.    But he is dead, and I do not believe in a realm where he could hear my words. Only I wish there were someone to whom I could say, “There was nothing I could do to stop him. He was my big brother. I think he loved me, but I could never have been of help to him. Because he would never have asked for help.”    And there is no one to whom I can say these words, an accident of both my life and his. And this, I think, is the saddest thing of all.    But if James heard me saying this, he would say, “The saddest thing? It’s not close to the saddest thing.”    But he would not have told me what the saddest thing might be.