I have a brother whom I see only once a year. I know, it hardly seems like a relationship, but it’s really quite intimate. Steve “The Big Kahuna” (TBK) Sarvis is part of my Oregon Country Fair (OCF) family. We camp together in the same family compound because his son is married to my niece. We see each other once a year, and it’s always good because we know each other in a unique way. With the OCF family there are no boundaries by class, religion, or race; everybody has a job, whether it’s recycling garbage, directing traffic, serving food, speaking, or making music. Lawyers, farmers, CEO’s, political activists, book publishers, craftspeople, all work side by side. There are multigenerational families here, all in camps that come together once a year to celebrate life in its most joyous and spontaneous manifestation.
The Big Kahuna was a 220 pound, tattooed, motorcycling beer distributor from Medford, Oregon. When we last saw each other eight weeks ago, he had lost 70 pounds and was proud of his accomplishment. He had been diagnosed with diabetes and was controlling his blood sugar by following a rigid diet.
Shortly after our goodbyes he developed some abdominal discomfort and what was only diabetes turned out to be a metastatic cancer of the pancreas. He was flown to Johns Hopkins Hospital pancreatic research program where he was told there was nothing they had to offer him. When he returned home, he decided against chemotherapy; he said he wanted to feel as good as he could, for as long as possible.
His extended family and friends gathered around him and within eight weeks he died in his son’s arms, surrounded by love. His extended family remembered The Big Kahuna in their prayers, fire twirling ceremonies, drumming circles, belly-dancing practices, sweat lodges, talking circles, and their Jewish High Holidays services.
Last week, on Rosh Hashana morning of the Jewish New Year 2770, we sent TBK our prayers and blessings. At three o’clock that afternoon our niece Kelly, called to tell us The Big Kahuna passed peacefully in Josh’s arms. Elaine told her that he was with us that morning and Kelly said that she strongly felt our presence. She said friends and family who respected and loved him always surrounded him. He may not have acquired lots of money, she added, but he was rich with family that loved him.
On Rosh Hashana, Jews believe their names will either be inscribed in the Book of Life, or they won’t. On that day it’s written, who shall live and who shall die, and how. I always found this season a bit depressing, praying to God that you won’t die this year.
Now I see it differently — it’s all about being inscribed in the Book of Life for however long it is. And when it’s time may we go like TBK: thinking clearly, making our own decisions, and surrounded by loved ones.
So in this season of renewal, I say to all my relations, may you be blessed by loving connections every day of your life.
Farewell my brother, and thanks for the reminder.