Celebrating Life, a Community and Love

A recent reading at a Sunday worship service focused on the simple principle: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” You don’t have to be a churchgoer or believer to learn this principle. Some call it the golden rule – “Do unto others…”. A friend had a similar saying: “What goes around, comes around.” My brother John died recently. Reflecting on John’s life and legacy has broadened my perspective on the golden rule and how love grows.

People enjoyed being around John because they felt better from the experience. He had a lightness and generosity of spirit that seemed to meet each person where they were. I was amused and amazed when one of his high school friends told me at his wake how she and other classmates would turn to John for help when they were facing some rebuke from the school administration for behavior. John would listen and say: “Ah, don’t worry about that. If you want, I will go with you to talk to the assistant principal.”

This was amazing because John had his share of challenges getting through school. The Catholic school discipline proved too much. The nuns first held him back a grade and then suggested he go to a public school in the seventh grade. Undaunted, John went on to become Class President and Valedictorian his senior year of high school.

John was one among many. He remembered where he came from and was generous to a fault in giving to others. So, it is no surprise others turned to him for help and for leadership.

He was a bricklayer. I was trying to recall how he learned that trade. He worked for another mason for a couple years and then began working on his own. From the beginning, he saw his work as art, and himself as an artisan. He took great pride in the quality of his work.  Again, at the wake, a cousin told me how, when he passes a certain large commercial property with a circular brick stairway in front; he’s reminded that John built the steps 40 years ago. In my cousin’s words, it remains a work of art, engineering and craft.

Another friend told of an elderly woman whose brick wall next to her house was collapsing. John offered to take a look, spent two days rebuilding it and didn’t charge her.

Men who worked for John stayed with him for the 20 years he was in business as Early Bird Construction. They enjoyed working for him because he respected them, made work fun, and saw that they were paid, even when that was a hardship to him.

When a loved one dies, most cultures have rituals to bring family and friends together. The sharing of stories is part, and perhaps our best way, of comforting one another. Why is this time together so important?  

Well, with the benefit of age, and mourning a succession of friends and family members, I am convinced we are called to love.  We each do it in our unique way.  And we do it imperfectly because our wounds and triggers limit or get in the way of loving. With age, perhaps we come to see that what Tim Leadem wrote about last week is true – we are all related.

 If we are fortunate, we come to see our own flaws and limitations. This capacity for self-knowledge reduces the need for judgment and increases the opportunity for connection and compassion.

My family is blessed to still have many connections in a community where our grandparents put down roots, and where our parents lived to almost 90. My maternal grandfather and my paternal great-uncle were both local elected officials. My mother and her mother were very active in the local Catholic Church and in community affairs.  Bel Air, where three generations of our family were raised, grew from a small farm community to a thriving suburb over our lifetime.

As a result, I chatted on Sunday with cousins, grade school friends and neighbors who knew my brother and family. Each time we gather as a community to mourn a death and celebrate a life, I find my appreciation of the people and the community of Bel Air grows.

As my heart opened and I could see all the love and good, this celebration of John’s life became a celebration of love for me. We are indeed all related. There is, I believe, a force for good; it invites us to see the good in one another. My brother John’s life was one of love. His big spirit connected with mine and that of many others and love grew. I am grateful for the traditions that bring us together in this way.


  1. Horace Grinnell

    tom, I really love what you’ve shared about your brother john. it seems that he was an artist both in craft and in friendship. what a blessing to have a brother like that. it does inspire you to want to love as he loved. thanks for sharing!
    t u c k

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Tuck, what a lovely way to think of him – an artist in craft and in friendship. Might we all creatively follow LOVE’s lead!Be well, Tom

  2. Joy Jones

    Enjoyed your reflections about your brother and the larger lessons to be learned from his life.

    • Tom Adams

      Thnaks Joy!

  3. Mary O'Herron

    Thanks, Tom, for your wonderful tribute to your brother/family.
    Blessings on all of you!

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Mary!

  4. Shelley Gillon

    What a beautiful tribute and a reminder that, ultimately, love is all. We may need more than love to sustain us, but your piece made me reflect that in the end, it’s who we loved and how we loved them.
    Truly beautiful.
    Thanks for sharing this,

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Shelley, for summing up what I tried to say so succinctly and clearly. Peace, Tom