My former brother-in-law and I are the same age and have known each other for 45 years. There have been some rocky times and even years that we have not seen one another. He was once an abusive alcoholic, and my sister left him after 17 years of marriage. Now sober for 30 years, he’s always supported her and their children. We have maintained a family connection; my kids call him Uncle.
Until recently, we saw each other infrequently; now we see each other three times a week, because six weeks ago he was stricken with Myasthenia Gravis. One week he was climbing Camelback Mountain daily and the next he was hooked up to a breathing machine. He is still in a Neuro-ICU; he’s off the respirator for several hours a day, can speak through his trachea, but still can’t swallow.
We have sat side-by-side, holding hands and talking (well mostly I do the talking, which I quite like) about the important issues in our lives. If you get struck down by a dramatic life-changing event like this, you cut through all the crap and talk about what’s real. The truth of where you are, who you are, and what you still want to be (or don’t).
Our discussions are not just existentially heavy. We also talk about what brings us the most joy, from the beautiful physical therapist, to being surrounded by the people we love. We talk about looking forward to tomorrow and what unfinished business we still want to take care of. I watch this strong, bright, competent, opinionated, hard-driving mirror of myself, as he teaches me about radical self-acceptance.
Self-acceptance is when you can look directly at the truth of your limitations and find a way to accept them and move on with your life. When we face our true selves we begin the process of changing our suffering into progress.
My brother-in-law called his son, whom he had seen or spoken to in eight years, and begged him to come see him. My nephew took a couple days to drive down so he could prepare himself for this confrontation after the great divide. Amidst the clicks, bells and whistles of modern medical technology, my nephew listened to his father whisper through the hole in his neck. His father apologized for the harm he knew had done, as well as the harm that he had done without even realizing it. For three days, my nephew listened to his father’s labored breath and shared his own truth.
Radical self acceptance is when you can look at the worst you — that person you know in your heart that you have never wanted to face directly — and take a step toward liberation. You don’t have to wait until you have to depend on a machine to breathe, before you look at the truth of your mortal limitations, and own them. Such radical self acceptance is the ultimate act of liberation.
We have known each other for 45 years, but in the last six weeks we have become brothers, and in the last week my bother and nephew have again become father and son.