“No Such Thing as Mundane”

Photo taken by Stan Brown on February 4, 2020

“Wonderful! No such thing as mundane!” The caption is typed over a picture of a book titled Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Every Day Places. Of the many things that have struck me these past days, I keep on coming back to this caption – for it captures my brother and his view of creation and the world.

My brother Stan is my second brother of four. Growing up, Stan was the life of our family with a quick wit, a fast tongue, a quick temper, and a passion for all of life. He was a spicy child and a spicy teenager. Both of us could raise our parents’ wrath more quickly than our siblings could. We did not fear conflict; we often looked for it. The story goes that our siblings looked on at the grief that we caused our mom and dad and decided “it’s just not worth it.” So if you look at it that way, Stan and I were real gifts to the family.

When I was in junior high, Stan came to me in a rage one day. The boarding school grapevine had relayed to him that his little sister had been smoking. He didn’t come to confirm whether it was true or not. He knew, of course, that it was. He looked me in the eye and he said to me “If you don’t write and tell our parents that you’ve been smoking, then I will.” “Okay” I sniffled “I will!” And I did.

In high school, Stan’s favorite jeans got two holes in them. One on each butt. How he managed that is extraordinary, still more extraordinary was that he cut out two perfect round patches, about 4 inches in diameter made of bright Sindhi Ajrak. He sewed the patches with tiny stitches all around. To the family, it was a work of art. Not only were his jeans now wearable, but they had these bright butt patches that were incredible. His work was uniquely unappreciated by staff and he was sent to the principal’s office and told he was indecent. When our mom found out, she was mad. Why on earth didn’t they appreciate the careful stitching and ingenious patches? Indecent how? He won that round with our mom, which was good as it turned out to be a far longer lasting relationship than that of the teacher who turned him in.

Stan’s passion for justice and advocacy began early. He was quick to see injustice and to stand up for it. I benefited from this on more than one occasion, but the one I remember best was when he took my 11th grade Physics class to task one day, including the teacher. It was an all male class besides me, and usually I tolerated the teasing fairly well. But not this time. This time it sent me into tears. It was one joke more than I could handle about my body or my brain. Stan, who was volunteering at the school during a year off from college, marched up to the Physics lab and told the teacher off. Though I don’t know exactly what he said, his words packed a mighty punch. I know this because that was the point where my teacher’s treatment of me changed, and the class – ever the adolescent boys of hero worship, followed their master.

Life moved on and we both became adults. I was the first family member to meet his wife, Tami, in Chicago. Stan introduced us and then left for California. As hard it was for them, for me it was a gift. Tami became a friend before she became my sister-in-law. Stan was smitten and on a rainy day the following August, Stami was born. He had found the one who his soul loved, and his life changed.

Through the years, being able to see each other became more of a challenge as life took their family to Kenya, Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Colorado and our family to Pakistan, Egypt, the US, and Iraq. Yet always when we did connect, it was the gift of being with a person fully alive and fully present.

On the past couple of years, Stan has had this uncanny ability to show up and surprise us. At one point we looked out our window in Cambridge and there was Stan! Peeking in our front windows like a wanted man, except that he was grinning from ear to ear. He did the same thing three days after our daughters wedding in September. Suddenly there was a knock on the door of the home we had moved into less than a month before. It was Stan! It would be the last time I would see him on this earth.

Siblings are a precious gift, a solid geological formation* in the midst of a world that is constantly changing. Friends may come and go, but family has to be there. It’s the law. And it’s a given that we take them for granted – we just know they will always be there. Until suddenly – they’re not. Until suddenly, they are gone with a phone call. I used to think everyone got “the phone call” once in their life. But I don’t think that’s true. Most people I know have not. In my sleepless nights I wonder “Why us?” Why were we the ones to get the phone call. What I’m really saying is “Why did you leave us? We miss you so.”

And then I think of all the times I missed telling him I loved him. All the times I thought “I need to call Stan.” but I didn’t call him, because he’s a sibling, and he’s always going to be around, and I knew he’d still love me if I didn’t call. Even my call to him before he left for Thailand came after he had boarded the plane and went immediately to a voice mail message.

My last text to Stan was horribly perfect. He had sent a screen shot of the weather here in Chiang Mai. It was 79 degrees, a clear starry sky, and Valentines Day. I texted back “I love you. I hate you.” It was the day before he died.

The tears come at odd times and they flow like they will never stop. The hole he has left is enormous. The collective grief and loss without doubt, but beyond that is the deeply personal, unshareable grief and loss of his beloved wife, daughter, and son. It is too deep to grasp, and yet, the God he loved is deeper still.

My brother’s life on earth is over. His life now has a dash in it: 1956 – 2020. The most important part of our lives is in the dash between – told and untold stories, lessons learned, people loved, all of life in a single dash.

It was back in December when Stan posted the cover of the book on glory. And though it was about a book, all of his pictures, indeed his life, reflected the tension of seeking out and searching for that glory in the midst of a broken world that groans.

This was Stan. From a leaf on a tree to a beloved grandchild and everything in between, nothing was mundane. The gift of Stan was a gift indeed. A gift from God, to and for the glory of God.

Note: People around the world have stories of Stan – this is just one of the many that will come out in the months that follow his death.

*Our son Joel first used this when speaking of his brother Micah. I love this description of siblings.

14 thoughts on ““No Such Thing as Mundane”

  1. Your image, “all of life in a single dash,” reminds me of when, shortly after his death, I came across a photo of my husband at about nine years of age, looking so fresh and sweet, and I gasped, realizing how recent that was. All flesh is as grass. But such beautiful grass.

    Memory eternal!

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  2. Beautiful tribute to Stan. His photo is gorgeous. The pain you describe on the part of all who loved him is palpable. I always think when the good die young or younger than we think they should have that it was because whatever they were meant to do or accomplish in this world had been done. They were ready to return to the one who sent them here; it was finished. Sound familiar? We do not know why some are called to serve long here and others are not. When Peter protested about John appearing to be destined for a longer life, the Lord chastised him, saying he should not concern himself about God’s plans for another. When bad things have happened to me or my family in the past, I have never thought, “Why me or us?” Rather, I have thought, “Why not me or us?” We are like everyone else, living in a fallen world and subject to all its conditions of sin, injustice, hatred, envy, greed, malice, etc. Scripture calls it “this vale of tears,” and no one who has glimpsed Paradise has ever wanted to return here. So, why not me? I am forgiven, but I am not perfect, and I live in an imperfect world that hates our being forgiven, hates the hope we have in Christ.

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  3. Glorious indeed ~ Stan’s photo in honoring God’s glorious creation, your moving tribute to a wonderful and passionate brother, the way Stan acted in God’s character by protecting you, and God’s scintillating delightful presence in his complex and dedicated life living love.

    One day (without tears then) I will enjoy meeting Stan at the Throne! Thank you for sharing him with us in this moving tribute.

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  4. Glorious indeed ~ that photo, your description, and even the hope (as the tears roll) of that glad morning when you’ll introduce us (if you beat me there). Well-described beloved brother, prince in the Kingdom, servant of God, practicing the Presence here that he now enjoys fully there.

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  5. Thank you, Marilyn. Thank you for sharing what must be so very raw at this moment. As I read it, my mind went back to MCS and to Stanly I knew then and there. God’s gift, indeed. I can’t even begin to pretend how it must feel to lose such a gift. Let’s take comfort in the knowledge that we do have in Jesus the one who understands our pain and who is not afraid to walk with us through that pain. Today is the first day of the six week journey to the cross, the journey we call Lent in the Anglican (Episcopalian) church. It is apprepriate to talk about loss and pain, the altimate suffering that brought
    us freedom, reconciliation and gift of everlasting life. And it is that hope we cling onto when our own pain gets beyond the human expressions. – Marilyn, accept my love, hugs and prayers and please, share them with your mum, siblings and Tami. “… there is nothing that separates us from God’s love.”

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  6. Have been praying for you all since Carol and Dan told us the news. Knew you’d eventually write about it. Lovely.Sad. i better call my brothers soon. Donna in Istanbul

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