Smiling Cousin

When I was a little boy, my cousin came to live with us for a bit. One Christmas Eve I was in bed but still awake, anxious for Santa to come. I heard someone walking by on their way to the bathroom so I pretended to be asleep. The bathroom door closed so I looked up, only to see my cousin smiling at me. I was tricked! But also amused — it’s funny how such minor interactions can endear someone to us.

He would lift weights in our garage, and when I was a little older and he no longer lived with us, I lifted weights in the garage. One Christmas he gave me a few sets of used books, including The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and The Once and Future King — I was a bit young to appreciate what a thoughtful and significant gift it was.

Later on I would even hear from an acquaintance that my cousin would occasionally attend my high school sporting events and how he’d speak highly of me. My cousin was well-liked in town, he worked at a local restaurant and was always considered a good kid. But life wasn’t kind to my cousin, his and his family’s paths were each tragic and each concluded abruptly.

What choice did these people have in the outcomes of their lives? Not much at all it seems, as the cruelties of life became too much to bear. Yet how do we reconcile such bitter ends? We must convince ourselves that a negative interpretation of life is untenable. And we must not dwell on the acts of desperation, but focus on the smiles and kindness existing amidst the suffering.

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