Sometimes I forget that Robbie had a whole different life in South Africa. I forget how much he is missing by being here in Canada. Things have certainly worked out well for him and in fact the rest of the family, but back in South Africa is a whole part of their family that I have yet to meet face to face. I have seen their photos, I have heard their voices. I know the essence of who they are from countless stories of a childhood so perfect you wouldn’t believe it.
I know of the pure joy of Tante Jasmine Brophy (Jasmine is sister to Robbie’s father) and her early morning wake up call to all those sleepy de Fleuriot’s to ‘Arise and Shine, It’s a beautiful day outside.’ I’ve heard of Robbie’s adventures building a shed with Uncle Gavin that ended up looking like an outhouse, so they called it Robbie’s outhouse. I know of Hannah’s love of dance that has led her to have her own dance studio at a very young age. I’ve heard of Ruth’s fiery spirit and her passionate work on the DIY DIVA segment for the magazine she works with. And I’ve seen many photos on facebook of Josh and Keryn’s triplets (Yes, triplets run in the family). I can hardly wait to meet them all face to face.
I know how dearly my beloved Robbie loves the Brophy’s. I know because I’ve heard it in his voice when he talks about them or talks to them.
Last Friday, on November 11th, Canada’s National day of remembrance, we also remembered a very special person, Nathaniel Brophy. Nathaniel was Robbie’s cousin senior to him by two years. Nathaniel was born with Cystic Fibrosis. He lived a courageous and joyous life until the age of 21 when he joined his two siblings Christopher and Mary who were already waiting for him in heaven. When Nathaniel was alive Robbie says he would always remark, “Guys, I just cannot wait until 11:11:11 on 11/11/11!” which would inevitably be followed by one of his legendary bursts of contagious laughter. Nathaniel’s birthday was November 11th.
We were up really late into the wee early hours of the 11th, as we had Tara and Stephen visiting us from Calgary. Just before we went to bed at 2:04 am we got a text message from JP via Papi’s phone. JP is visiting Mami and Paps in Dubai right now. The text read, “Hey rob. Just a reminder that its Nathaniel’s birthday anniversay today. 11.11.2011. At 11:11 am we celebrated his life. Love you lots. Jon.” Robbie texted back to ask for Tante Jasmine’s number in South Africa to call her and speak with her. JP called back instead of texting back and they spoke for a moment about how much they loved their cousin. The excitement to share that moment was so clear in their voices as I listened in, as I often do.
Robbie then called South Africa and had a chat with Tante Jasmine right around 11:11 am South African time. He was so happy to reach her. The very sound of her voice makes you feel elated. Here is a woman who lost three of her six children to Cystic Fibrosis and the only thing she can recall of their lives is not their disease, but the immense blessing that they were to her, how they spoke to her of God’s love and grace, and how lucky she was to be their mother.
As I stood there in the kitchen listening to their conversation recalling Nathaniel and what he meant to them, I became overwhelmed with love for this entire family here in Canada and in their home in South Africa. I love how they have taught me the value of ceaseless joy. Not a superficial joy, but a deep joy that sees beyond this world and into the next. A joy that allows every day to be a clean start and every interaction with another human being an opportunity for grace. In each of Robbie’s brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and of course in Robbie himself, I have seen the joy of God streamed across their faces, in their voices and words in every interaction I’ve had with them, great or small. My family in South Africa plus Eric, Louise, Nicole, Jean-Paul, Robbie, Pierre, and Domi: these are the happiest people I know. It is extraordinary.
I sometimes forget that my Robbie had a cousin that he loved dearly, who he was very close with, that passed away. If I were in his shoes I would constantly have to dig myself out of the hole of despair that I would inevitably create for myself. Instead, his response is to remember everything good. To remember Nathaniel’s excitement for 11:11:11 on 11/11/11. To remember the conversations they had together about their faith. To remember ping pong on a makeshift table, his new Callaway golf club, and Jonty Rhodes cricket. To remember how he passed from this world with a trail of miracles behind him.
The privilege of being a de Fleuriot means to be fully immersed in joy. I know this because I live with one of them and slowly he is helping me to understand how to choose to live wholly wrapped in this immense joy.
For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.