The one defining commonality of the human species is that we love our children. So much so, that sometimes, that love is a vulnerability that is so intense, it can take our breath away. Would we do anything to protect them? That goes without saying. Can our imaginations reach to a point in which we see them being taken away? No. Especially not in our overly-protected world of modern medicine, safety devices, and ample written warnings on whatever we buy.
As a mother, I listen to my friends speak about their children, their words coming from the same place that mine do when I speak about my own children. I don’t discount the words they speak. I simply understand the place from which the words are born.
When my friend Lori spoke about her children, she was no less effusive. Her children were bright. They were beautiful. They were fiercely committed to life. One only has to know Lori to understand that she could not have produced a child who was anything but bright, beautiful, and fiercely committed to life. Lori is, herself, a force of nature.
The given was that Lori’s children were poised to take on the world. What was not given was that the world would take one of those children away.
Jake, Lori’s 34-year-old only son was killed on September 19, in a charity bicycle race for cancer. He rode in honor of the brother of a friend of his. And, while riding, he was training another biker to ride the course. Typical Jake: There seemed always to be an extra level in the giving.
By any standard, the world would have called Jake brilliant. His mind was one of the bright spots of science and technology. By any standard, the world would have called Jake accomplished. He was senior adviser to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. By any standard, the world would have called Jake a giver. He was associated with any number of charitable, environmental, and political causes. By any standard, the world would have called Jake an example of the best of what we are capable as a species.
The President made a heartfelt public statement about Jake’s death. News services all over the world picked up the story. One thousand programs were printed in anticipation of the memorial service in Jake’s honor at the National Cathedral. It turned out that one thousand was not enough. In a city that defines people by their political ideology, Jake’s death cut to the chase. People from all ends of the political spectrum sent flowers, gave their condolences and expressed a very personal sense of loss at his passing.
It was only after his death that I felt I knew Jake Brewer. It was only after his death that I appreciated what I had lost.
After the news stories are done, after the world has moved on, after the name Jake Brewer will elicit a response of “Oh wait, that name sounds familiar. Didn’t I read something about him?” there will be a too-young widow who will, of course, survive. She is, in her own right, a remarkable and remarkably accomplished young woman. She will move forward in her life, raise her children, and continue to excel in the political arena. But she will do so with an awareness of the the impermanence of life that one as young as she is should not be forced to appreciate.
There will be two children who will grow up, having no experience of their father, other than what photos and stories provide them. But who will, hopefully, make choices in their own lives that will speak to who their father was and the choices he made every day of his life.
There will be a father, a stepfather, siblings, friends, co-workers, and legions of people whose lives were made better, simply because one young man took the responsibility seriously, to take a stand for a world that needed what he could provide.
And there will be a mother. A mother who loved her child no more, nor less, than we all love ours. A mother who wanted no more, nor less, than we all want for our children. A mother who will continue to inspire her daughters and her grandchildren in the same way she inspired her son. A mother who will know, in spite of her grief and her pain and the unthinkable place in which she finds herself now, that she gave the best of herself in order to raise a man who then gave the best of himself to everyone he touched.