I see you as if it were yesterday—eating cafe con churros in the cozy salon de peregrinos in the Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos in Santiago de Compostela. We were among the first ten pilgrims to show up at breakfast time. The five star hotel was legally required to serve us food provided we show up with our Compostellas at the back door, which we did—the Cajun way. There we were, in this cozy room, seated around the table, overlooking the Plaza de Obradoiro just adjacent to the Cathedral, with friends we felt as if we had known a lifetime, even if we had only med them two weeks ago. For more than 10 years the vagaries of our circumstances had prevented us from quality time together, but then we were as if no time had passed at all. In two short weeks we had crossed the Atlantic and trekked by feet through rugged mountains, abandoned monasteries, medieval villages, torrential rains, and blizzarding snowfalls. By the end, we were as close as if no rift had ever passed between us. Los Hermanos Tejanos—we were called—incredibly different but in some strange way quite similar.
Perhaps it was my protector instinct or perhaps it was the fact that you could not resist the urge to run that resulted in the common scenario of you walking ahead of me—sometimes within eyesight and sometimes well ahead. We would sometimes meet in the next village, where we would stop to eat or sleep. This resulted in a distinctly memorable circumstance on the way to the village Grandas de Salime, where we were caught by a blizzard as we trekked up a mountainside. You walked just enough ahead of me to be visible, and I walked closely behind, petitioning Saint James that the Lord deliver us safely to his tomb in Santiago de Compostela. Despite your affinity for combining piligriming with physical exercise, I did not let you out of sight until snowfall stopped. I was not going to let you be another pilgrim lost and dead due to inclement weather of the Asturian mountains.
As your older brother, I always felt this responsibility to make sure you were protected and safe. I can recall, for instance, the profound sense of fear and responsibility to look for you when you were lost in Pensacola, FL. Just 9 years old, you managed to elude our extensive search for hours until we found you in the identical condominium building next door awaiting our arrival. Even before I can remember, I would hold you as a baby, cuddle you, and per my mother’s account was quite protective of you. And when you had struggled in life, I wanted so badly to protect you from the spoils that could befall you. When I was studying for my licensing exam in France, I recall hearing of your unfortunate relapse with alcohol. That night I cried beside Bishop Peter of Hartford, CT, who happened to be hearing confessions at Taize, the village where I stayed. ‘Ever since I learned that he had problems with addiction,’ I told him, ‘I feared for his safety.’ He prayed with me and told me that ‘he was lucky to have a brother like you.’ Later that night I wrote you a letter. I told you that even if you fell, you would get up and run again. Even if you fall a hundred times, I told you, one day you will get up, stay up and run. I quoted a song from the great philosopher Shakira that I had been listening to, which I thought described you. The song is translated as ‘Bare feet, white dreams.’ It’s chorus reads:
‘You belonged to an ancient race
Of bare feet and white dreams
You were dust and now you are dust
Thinking iron always softens to heat.’
I encouraged you not to be as iron and harden in despair over a fallen man, who—as the song further warns—insists on having:
‘Every little thing calculated in its space and time
Answering only that and feeling only this
And may God spare us bad thoughts
Do what we owe society
Always wear shoes
…Even if you didn’t want it like that.’
And you believed me. You knew the futility of living a life—as the song warns—‘wanting to be happy here when you’re destiny didn’t mean a thing to you.’
When we met at rehab several weeks later, we shared the same conviction that the only path to healing from addiction was through a spiritual conversion. You found that your path to healing could only be successfully navigated by a genuine change, a living in the moment, and most of all—by a life devoted to acts of charity and love. In one of your most recent Facebook entries, you expressed a joy in living this conversion. You encouraged us to ‘meditate daily, write, journal, make eye contact and physical touch, purposefully target and cultivate relationships that are fruitful, and get in regular contact with loved ones.’ You made your decision to ‘the degree to which your life improves,’ and sadly, your free, trusting spirit led you down a path that would end in your life being prematurely cut short.
As a Catholic who believes in a God who created man as good in essence, I struggle to understand the evil to which you were subjected in your last moments. Falling prey to the temptations that deluded Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, is an easy one. Attributing evil events to evil deeds is a perennial human tendency. Yet Job 21:19-22 reminds us that sin is its own punishment. Moreover, he reminds us that suffering is redemptive. ‘When [God] has tried me,’ says Job 23, ‘I shall come forth as gold.’ As Job 42:2 reminds us, God’s omniscience is too great for us mortals to fathom His reasons behind human calamities. Moreover Job’s prosperity in Job 42:7-17 reminds us that fidelity to God in the midst of suffering will lead us to true joy, as Job was restored to more land, livestock and 10 more children. Still, I find myself at a loss to explain your death. As did Job, so too I ask for an explanation of why a good God can allow such calamity befall on you when you surely did not deserve this.
Yet as Christ taught us through his sacrifice, which Job’s suffering anticipated, only a true, authentic love can reconcile the irreconcilable—the fact of evil in a good world—and you, like Christ, taught us this love with our life in so many ways: by your generosity, your time, your charitable works, your devotion to prayer in its many ‘types and durations,’ and even your money—when you had it. I recall with gratitude the commitment you showed to ushering at our wedding. I also recall with surprise how you without hesitation loaned $5000 of your sparse savings to help your best friend find a lawyer to get him out of prison. Most recently, you bought Amanda an owl backpack that you found in Austin, just as a sheer act of gratitude for having her as your sister in law. Moreover, I am told of your great legacy of charitable works in Austin—community gardening, reverse panhandling, free compliments and simply befriending people in need of a relationship. Yes you sought to live a life as an unmerited blessing to those around you.
Some have stated that you ‘thoroughly discarded orthodoxy,’ but as your brother who has spoken intimately with you about life’s first questions over your 27 years of life, I know that you were not against truth. Coming from the Greek roots ‘ortho’ (right or proper) and ‘doxa’ (belief or opinion), orthodoxy—the right belief—for you was something attainable only by steadfast perseverance and supplication. As you once wrote me from prison, you warn against ‘profound distraction…[and] lies, which when coupled with any degree of apathy or outright unwillingness’ can ‘alienate us from… Truth [with capital T] in its rawest form.’ As you further write, ‘ I now know in order to reveal profound truths, one must abide by God’s divine timing and discretion. The recipient of such revelations must be ready for it. They must be of strong faith in God and must be willing to practice du diligence in study and supplication to assimilate and discern such volatile knowledge.’ To hastily presume the truth would lead to a narrowness for which you had a proper skepticism. As you further go on to say, ‘One MUST resolutely decide to pursue knowledge and suffer the often extreme pain of assimilation into wisdom…And in this way God has shown me to respect the fragile nature of the human condition. How easily a dislodged fragment of truth can contribute to spending 10 years in a self-destructive prison of the mind.’ For you experienced the self-destructive consequences of blindly confirming to society’s short-sighted presumption that following only one path would lead you to love the world fully. Through your genuine pursuit of love, often times through suffering, you found your joy. While we may never know you as Saint Cory, you take the place with Saint Stephen Martyr, St Paul, St Patrick, St Thomas Beckett, St Maximillian Kolbe and all those who have found their joy in suffering for the sake of love, even unto death.
After we had breakfast at the Hostal de Los Reyes Catolicos, you and I went to Mass at the Cathedral. You were not Catholic but you believed in the love incarnate in the apostle we had come to venerate. Every time that I go to the Cathedral of St James, tomb of the apostle who Jesus loved, I will not only remember Him but also you. And as I walk along the Way, be it the Way of St James or the Way of life, I will always know that no longer is it I who am watching over you for your safe arrival but now you who are watching over me, awaiting my safe arrival at the end. I will see you when I get there.