The American Psychological Association (APA) defines Resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress- such as family/relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace/financial problems”. At its very basic definition, it is the ability to “Bounce back”.
To me, resilience was an abstract concept, something I read in books and knew how it worked in theory but was unable to practice it. I was lucky, in that all the adversity I’ve faced thus far has not been something I cannot deal with. However, there are others who deal with unimaginable amounts of adversity and pain, sometimes all alone…
It is from the stories of these people where you find the greatest examples of courage and strength and lessons that can help all of us.
One such person was my friend Brian Lee.
I first met Brian in 1999. I was new to ELC International school but Brian had been there since reception. I was scared and lonely, but he was one of the first few people who came up to me and actually talked to me. I can never forget that.
Over the years we remained friends. Brian never spoke unless it was necessary which may have given the impression that he was shy but talk to him for just five minutes and it will reveal a kind and helpful person who had this uncanny ability to make you laugh. More than anything though he was a genuine person and a good friend. A rare commodity nowadays.
I am not going to pretend, I did not know him as well as I would have liked to. But, I knew him fairly well and he was always warm, open and extremely friendly. He had a pure, forgiving heart and that was reflected in the fact that I never saw him get involved in any conflict or argument and never once saw him get angry, I think he was incapable. He truly believed other people were good, despite their actions and was never biased in his interactions with others.
After school, we lost touch a little, I went to India to study while he remained here in KL.
In May 2012, Brian was diagnosed with Leukemia. Recollecting that incident, Brians brother said that when we was handed that news, all he did was smile and update his Facebook account, telling his friends that he had Leukemia and that THEY shouldn’t worry about him. He is one with Leukemia and he asked US not to worry! This is what made Brian truly unique, he always put others before him, always thought about everyone else and in response to his world turning upside down, all he did was smile.
Brian possessed an extraordinary sense of resilience. Despite everything that was thrown at him, every setback, even suffering that relapse, he remained cheerful and positive.
“Giving up is something I never learned how to do” – Facebook, December 2012
Infact, he believed that it was important that for their sake, his friends and family remained positive and strong. He once said: “Even if things aren’t going well for you, you can always bless others in many ways. You don’t have to bring others down with you”. Look at his Facebook posts and visit him in person and you woudn’t see a person who had cancer. You would see a strong, normal individual, who unlike so many of us, had not a care in the world. In the last few weeks before he passed away, my friend Douglas asked him to try this drink made out of a particular flower as it had proved effective in curing someone elses cancer before. In response, Brian said he would, but that Douglas should not have high expectations nor worry if it doesnt work out because he knew the cancer was at an advanced stage. Brian displayed so much maturity and courage in that interaction, making us respect him so much more.
Yet, his optimism and cheerfulness hid terrible pain and suffering. He was diagnosed with cancer when he bled through his nose for almost five hours, but since then suffered leg pain, bruising, back pain, fevers, on a daily basis and not to mention grueling sessions of chemotherapy.
Brian is a hero for so many of us for a few simple reasons.
He displayed extraordinary resilience and yet was one of the most humble, kind and generous people we have had the privilege to meet.
He showed us how to deal with our problems, through faith and a positive outlook.
Taught us never to complain about your problems but instead fight your hardest, fight hard enough and you will prevail.
Demonstrated that life is a simple gift and that we should be thankful for what we have. It is only complicated, if we decide it will be. This perfectly embodies this quote by one of my favourite philosophers, Confucius: “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated”
More importantly he showed me that time is finite and that in the short time that we are on earth we must live a meaningful and rich life. We all have a purpose in life and we should try to fulfill that purpose. The only barrier stopping you from achieving your dreams, is your fear.
Finally, he showed me how to live my life- with passion, kindness for others courage, hope and always with a smile on my face.
I complained a lot about everything and I thought I had it hard. It was nothing as compared to what Brian faced. At a time when we were all meeting new people and having new experiences, Brian suffered. Its not fair that he was taken away so young, it was not fair that someone so good had to suffer like this. But Brian knew the world was unfair and instead of complaining he accepted it and lived a meaningful life.
Abe Lincoln once said: “In the end, its not the years in your life that count. Its the life in your years”
Brian lived a truly rich and meaningful life, which impacted so many people, of this, there is no doubt. At his wake, someone called him the embodiment of Jesus Christ and to be honest, I do not think they are wrong. He was kind, compassionate, merciful and a beautiful person who spread love and hope to everyone he met.
I was not there for him enough, I know I wasn’t as good a friend as I could have been. I know you are reading this Brian and I just want to say I am sorry. If I could turn back time, I would.
It was an honor knowing you and I am proud to have called you my friend. You were a true inspiration. Your strength, love and kindness never failed to impress us. We love you man.
RIP Spidey, we will all meet soon.
*Brian passed away on the 2nd of June, 2015, at the age of 22. He was a fighter, a warrior and his loss was deeply mourned. Even though we were glad he was finally rid of the pain and suffering, we miss him terribly.