Mark came home to die, plain and simple. He had been gone for so many years and now here he was, standing at my back door grinning like only he could. He looked so thin, taller than I remembered too. His eyes were sunken with dark raccoon circles marking his facial features. He wore a tattered tee-shirt which read, “I survived the San Francisco earthquake.” He didn’t look like he had survived anything.
It had been so long since the last time I had laid eyes on him that I barely recognized my own brother. Mark was home!
How does one welcome home a sibling who had been gone for so long, who obviously didn’t care about us or he would not have run away for so long. How does a big sister forget about all the nights of worry and tears, how does she shed the guilt she carried for fifteen years? How does she move beyond the painful memories and the years of silence and embrace this prodigal? Like this:
“Mark? Is that really you?” I cried as I got up from the kitchen table and ran to the back door to unlatch it. “Get in here!”
Pulling him into a great big hug I began to pepper him with a litany of questions, the usual type, “Where have you been? How have you been? Why are you here? Does anyone else know you are back?” All these questions tumbled out with barely a breath in between them.
Mark grinned, that familiar grin and began to respond to the interrogation. I barely heard his words as I was busy taking in his appearance. He was not the same; he did not look the same. Of course he was fifteen years older, no longer a boy but a man, but that wasn’t it. Something was wrong, very wrong. I had to look hard and deep to see the Mark of years past, my baby brother. Every once in a while a mannerism or look would surface and I could definitely see the features of my brother. Just as quickly they would vanish.
Mark was the youngest of four and the only boy. He was always getting into trouble; nothing major, just things like truancy, neglecting his homework, the types of things many young boys experience when they are seeking for their father’s love and recognition.
As a teen he would run away only to have the police find him at some bus station and return him to us. Every time things got a little dicey Mark was gone.
He had been expelled from the Catholic school when he was only in the fourth grade. The sisters could not handle him – or they didn’t want to be bothered. Mark’s life was filled with rejection of this sort, all of which contributed to his consistent inclination to up and leave. The last time he left he was gone for over fifteen years. We had no idea if he was alive or dead.
Our parents used to joke about Mark’s wanderlust and use that as the excuse every time he would disappear. I know it was hard on our parents but they too would get over it and just sink further into the bottle that drove him away in the first place.
Now Mark was home again and it was obvious from his appearance that he was very sick. Our baby brother picked the right time to return. The three of us, his sisters, had changed a lot since he left. Most of the family had come to know Jesus during Mark’s absence and were just waiting to make the introduction. This was the day we had been praying for but doubted would ever happen.
Mark left us in the spring time of his life when he was only a child. He survived on the street. He lived much of the summer of his life across country from us. From the tales he told, he had a difficult but exciting life. He told of many of his adventures as well as the misadventures.
Mark returned during the autumn of his life, not an old man but certainly not the child we all remembered him as. He was very sick, HIV was ravaging his body. That was two years ago. God gave us a rich two years filled with laughter, tears and family togetherness. Now Mark is gone again. This time we know where he is.
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