I have many memories of my older brother and our many conversations. He was an educator with an eclectic spirit. He too was his father's son and followed his path as an educator with a heart, especially, for those students who were the most marginalized in our society.
Mark studied at the University of Kings College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He grew to love the spirit of the Maritimes; its culture and the English, Scottish, and Irish heritage that exerts such an influence on that region of Canada.
At my father's funeral, Mark delivered the eulogy, and perhaps in a moment of transference or perhaps a more felt sense of spiritual kinship, admitted that my father was a complicated man. In this he drew on our Catholic tradition of the saints who offer important insights into the nature of human beings. One of the great English saints, admired by Mark, St. Thomas More, said:
“God made the angels to show Him splendor, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind.”
This image of serving God, intellectually, in the tangles of our mind resonated with my brother. All of us experience conflicting motivations, impulses, defences, delusions, occurring within ourselves as we strive to live a full life. But that is not psychopathology; that is how we are created. Our very purpose in this life is to serve God, wittily, within these very tangles. We cannot avoid them. In fact working through these very tangles to forge a just society and a meaningful life is what constitutes our human dignity.
Mark embraced his contradictions and conflicts. His spirit was a free one. It was not conventional. He did not teach in a conventional school (he taught students who society or the education system had marginalized). He did not live a conventional life or remain in the stable institutions such as marriage that our society and ecclesial institutions afford us. He moved from northwestern Ontario, to the Maritimes, and finally to California for the last well over 30 years. And notwithstanding the length of time spent in California, he was planning, after retirement, to move again to Alabama for reasons known only to him. He loved his estranged wife Ann and it was a regret that he could not make that work. Yet, in and through all of this he remained a devout and practicing Roman Catholic until the end of his life.
He eschewed advice from his brothers who when calling him urged him to go to the hospital the day before he died. He complained of sore ribs and a sore throat. He forthrightly refused to attend to these matters for reasons none of us remaining behind will understand. But such is the dignity of human choice and self-determination.
For those of us close to him, we loved him in all his complications, contradictions, good humour, sarcastic wit, and sentimentality. He shared once with me a poem by Robert Frost that captures the essence of who Mark is an was. It is entitled, "The Men Who Don't Fit In".
There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest.
If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: "Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!"
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.
And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.
He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life's been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;
He's a man who won't fit in.
In a moment of serendipity, in on one of our Skype calls, we were discussing, of all things, King Lear. Mark shared with me his favourite Shakespearean quote. I imagine my brother as the favoured child Cordelia and my father as King Lear taking Mark's hand and saying "come Mark let's take upon 's the mystery of things, As if we were God's spies".