After traveling on an all-night flight where I stayed up for hours, only sleeping 90 minutes or so in the final portion before landing, I landed in Bangkok. I hadn’t been to Thailand in years!
It feels good to be back. There’s something strange and bittersweet to be here, but I can hold both feelings simultaneously.
I’m in town for three days, and so far I’ve spent both afternoons working from the coffee shop in Terminal 21, a big shopping mall across the street from my hotel. I’m in a jet lagged haze per usual, but it took me a few minutes to realize what else was wrong. Finally it hit me: Bangkok was a place I’d thought about bringing Ken on the big trip we never took.
See, I had this fantasy, back when I started flying around the world on a regular basis, that one day I’d take my brother to Asia, where we’d lived as kids. I’d show him Singapore Airlines and all my favorite places. We’d drink beers in the airline lounge and he’d see the sites of Thailand: the night market, the temples, the world’s best movie theaters.
Then we could come to the 9-story mall where I’m writing these notes. Each floor is themed after a different world city or region, from Rome to Istanbul to “Caribbean” (precise geography not being this mall’s strong suit). On the highest floor, San Francisco, there’s a video game store, with playable console systems set up in a big semi-circle around the edge.
I especially like the translated signs with instructions:
“Please do not be loud!”
“Seats are for players only. Guests must watch respectfully!”
“Sleeping is not permitted!”
I also get a kick out of how random American restaurant chains can flop back home but go on to a second life in places like Thailand. Kenny Roger’s Roasters is huge here! Swensen’s is going strong. There are also the knockoffs, the Tennessee Fried Chickens and burger joints that look exactly like Burger King but have a different name.
Anyway, there’s no shaking it off: my brother’s birthday is coming up again, and I have a sense of crushing disappointment and shame in not being able to talk about these things with him. We could have had an ice cream sundae at Swensen’s, or we could have just laughed at the fake KFC.
Since I started sharing these occasional notes on my blog, some people have told me that I shouldn’t feel guilty or regretful, but it’s not that simple. One feels what one feels. Besides, if this is some sort of burden that must be carried, I do so willingly. I don’t want to pretend that losing him is okay or ever will be.
At the same time, I’m trying to be mindful of what he, my brother, would want from those he loved. As uncertain as I am about other things, I’m absolutely certain that he wouldn’t want us to be sad all the time. For someone who left this world by way of a tragic choice, he was incredibly joyful and positive most of the time. His enthusiasm was contagious, so we should endeavor to carry it on.
He was also a great encourager, always cheering me on and sending supportive notes to friends and colleagues. Therefore, I occupy both of these mental worlds simultaneously, the bitter and the sweet. I will go and listen to jazz and I’ll have a nice meal. (No Kenny Roger’s for me, even though I do like the name.)
I’ll keep traveling and writing and trying to find my way, especially through kindness and joy, the legacy that will live on even in his absence.
This Sunday, September 11, is Ken’s thirty-third birthday. It feels no easier to accept this fact now than it did one year ago today, the first birthday where he wasn’t present. So that’s why I think of him today and every day. I think sad thoughts about his departure and I let them come. I think happy thoughts about his life, remembering good stories and funny things he said.
There is no conclusion to this process, but the circle eventually comes around to the only task left to me: to live more fully with the values he expressed so well.
Image: Игорь М