I Can Only Imagine

Posted: July 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

In a parallel universe or two, my brother, David, turns 60 today. In this universe, he doesn’t (I wrote about him a few years back), but I’d rather focus on those other universes today.

Coincidentally, I recently watched the movie I Can Only Imagine, based on the life of Bart Millard, who released the titular song in 1999 and 2001, bookending the year my brother passed away. Part of what was detailed in the movie was his relationship with his abusive father, who found religion after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and turned his life around. As the movie Bart said, “He turned from a man I hated into the kind of man I wanted to become, and my best friend.”

Every day, I’m saddened by the loss of that possibility with my brother.

Most of my growing-up years, we were not friendly toward each other, much less friends. I didn’t hate him, but I bore him no goodwill, either. You could say I tolerated him when I was in the vicinity, which I tried not to be. But somewhere along the way, as he neared and barely passed 40, he tried to change. I don’t know if religion was involved, but it doesn’t matter what his reasons were; what matters is that he made an effort.

David reached out to me.

And I responded.

Because somewhere deep inside, I knew that it wasn’t just the right thing to do, it was something I needed to do. We are all partly a product of our upbringing, of our families — whether biological, forced or chosen — and all of that — good or bad — goes into making the pieces of our unique puzzle.

We both started repairing that broken brotherhood we shared, but we were far from finishing the job when he had a motorcycle accident, which ultimately proved fatal. What saddens me is that we never healed completely. Bart was lucky enough to complete that journey with his father; David and I will never have that opportunity.

I still think about David, probably more so on his birthday. For a long time, I’d call my mother every July 29th, so she could tearfully tell me stories about her first-born, but those days are long gone now, too. She suffered a stroke not long ago, and is slowly slipping away from reality. At least she didn’t remember what today used to mean to her, which is a small mercy.

Ultimately, the movie is hopeful; millions of people have found solace in the lyrics and message of the overly-Christian song, but I don’t think you have to be a religious type to understand and relate to the very human experience Bart expresses. And it deviates somewhat from Bart’s real life story.

What got me thinking about David today, on what would have been his 60th birthday, was the combination of those two factors: the message of hope and redemption in our daily lives, along with the deviance from reality. What gave me hope today was the thought that if parallel worlds exist, David is still alive on some of those, and turning 60 today.

That made me wonder what he’s like in those realities. Did we finish that journey of healing together? Is he the kind of person I’d want to be my best friend? Surely in at least some, he is a man I want to call my brother.

That is the way I want to remember him today.

I can only imagine.


  1. Barb Caffrey says:

    Sometimes the worst things to remember are the missed opportunities. But the second-worst things seem to be the partially missed opportunities, or the partially fulfilled opportunities (as that’s a kinder, and perhaps more accurate, way to look at it).

    This is a beautifully written piece, very moving, and while I appreciated reading it, I am saddened that you did not get that chance to fully reconcile with him and be more comfortable with each other.

  2. […] Dan wrote about it here. […]

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