The first time I saw Brad, he appeared to be just another drifter among many in the area; homeless, likely an addict, and maybe mentally disturbed. I knew many like him. He had a heavy aura, dark and troubled eyes, long bushy beard and slumped shoulders; the look of someone hardened by experience. Against appearances, Brad was one of the kindest people I have had the privilege of encountering. He was known in the neighborhood as ‘Bear’, because of the way he cared for younger kids on the street.
Brad became a friend to me. I confided in him, and he returned the confidence. He told me how he had been abused by a priest over many years. The anger and betrayal was still right near the surface for him. In time Brad became extremely anxious; he caught a flu which he couldn’t shake, and became withdrawn. He asked to talk. He explained to me that he was on the run from some bikers. He said that something big was about to happen. He warned me that one day soon I would find him dead. He also told me that he would be back after forty days. It was one of the most eerie conversations I’ve had in my life.
Sure enough, a few weeks later, just after Easter, I found him with a needle in his forearm and another lying next to him loaded with enough heroin to destroy five human beings. There was a police investigation, mostly unanswered questions, and because he was a drifter, not much effort to get to the bottom of his death.
I tried to track down family or friends, but to no avail. A few of us scraped together some money to give him a proper burial and a send off. Life went on. Forty days later, to the day, I received a phone call. The voice on the other end of the phone said, “I’m Brad’s mum.” I listened in shock as she told me Brad had a family, a two year old daughter, lots of trouble in his past and a drug habit. His family traveled interstate so that I could give them an idea of his life in Sydney and walk them through his last days. They needed some pieces to the puzzle of their grief. It was an amazing, intense time.Its always felt like an Easter story to me and not just because Brad died at Easter. His premonition, or whatever it was, about the forty days, was so amazing. It was like he was warning me to keep my mind open.
In some sense, he was with us as I spent time with his family. Through his family he came alive to me in new ways. I’ve never seen him since, but I’ve also never forgotten him. There was no fairy tale ending, for him or his grief stricken family, or for most of the other street people I knew at the time, most of who would now be dead.
Most of us don’t have dramatic life stories like Brad. But we all have our own loss and disappointment. The reality for most of us is that there aren’t usually any fairy tale endings. The Easter message is to keep going and keep hope alive in whatever way you can. Second chances turn up in surprising ways, opportunities to carry on the legacy of those who have left us, to make sure that people like Brad don’t die for no reason. They leave something behind which plants like a seed in your memory. It is called love.
This verse from Anne Hillman pretty well sums up a real world Easter for me;
We look with uncertainty beyond the old choices for clear-cut answers to a softer,
more permeable aliveness which is every moment at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway, awaiting that which comes:
daring to be human creatures, vulnerable to the beauty of existence, learning to love.