Be A Shining Light Because…The World Needs More People Like That

SOMETIMES we lose sight – it’s easy to do in the daily flutterings of life. What’s real, what’s important, what can wait, what cannot.  Here are some encouraging, lifting words from Austen; although he wrote them to himself, they are generally applicable to living a good, fulfilled, solid-citizen, wonderful life.  May his words bring a positive glow to your day and perhaps a little inspiration. 

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“Butterfly At Rest,” Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2016.

From Austen’s “Journey Through Sobriety”:

Sometimes I lose sight of the beauty.  Make music, be exceptional, do things differently, think one step ahead.  See yourself as a viable, flawed but worthwhile human being.  Attractive, thoughtful, intelligent. Ready to take on any challenge without fear.  Courage and enthusiasm.  Once you get a hold of who you are and what you have to offer you can really start dictating things in your life.  Not controlling things, but just making informed choices and decisions.

Lift yourself up.
Dream big.
Think without limitations.
Mature, unflustered, confident, carrying myself with dignity and self-respect. Creative, interesting, different.

 * * * *

You have to be patient with other people as well as yourself.  You have to do things you don’t want to do because the right thing is not always the easy thing, in fact, it’s usually the harder choice.  Deciding not to get angry or going out of your way to help someone.  Eventually all of these positive actions add up.  They seem small and insignificant at the time, but in the bigger picture they are extremely meaningful. Being a kind, good, positive person is the path I want to walk.  It has been the path I have wanted to follow for a long time.  Every since I saw what the world was really about and what actually exists within the darkness.  I need to be a shining light because that is who I am and because the world needs more people like that.

Austen Berj Brooks, ‘Journey Through Sobriety,’ July 23, 24, 2014.

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Austen in Tucson, 2011: a ‘shining light’ indeed.

 

“I Will Be Confident And I Will Be Colorful”

RedFlowersOpiate addiction and depression. It may not be clear which one comes first, but at some point in the process they become intertwined and feed off one another. So, it was with Austen.

He writes that he first took opiates when he was 15 years old, probably sometime in 2007 before or during his junior year of high school, derived most likely from the medicine cabinets of his friends’ parents. Prescription drugs prescribed for pain. He took the drugs when his brain was still forming, when he was a sensitive, impressionable teenager, when he had only begun to experience the vast space of this world and his life within it. Opiates relieved his sadness and loneliness, gave him a euphoric, but temporary, happiness, and forever preyed upon his soul.  (Red flowers photo taken by Austen at the lakefront in Evanston, IL, May 26, 2012.)

Austen considered himself ‘an addict.’ That label was reinforced for him during his rehabilitations and treatments and in the college courses he took as a psychology major. He spent at least six years fighting his addiction and depression, with cycles of ups and downs, valiantly dealing with the constant warring factions of demons and gladiators. He used his intellect to research and understand what was happening to him. He sought help, he used his words and raps to describe his experience, he appealed to a higher order, he fought to be optimistic that he could turn things around, and he felt he was on the verge of doing so.  In July 2012, he wrote, “I like the pieces I have, even if my vices and demons overpower them at times.  I can win, I will succeed.”

I have paired some photos Austen took in late May 2012 with excerpts he wrote in the summer of 2012 about his ‘self’, a self that was synonymous with being ‘confident’ and ‘colorful.’ He was on a visit home from Indiana University before the start of the summer semester. I had loaned him my older Nikon D50, and he and I took an afternoon walk with our cameras.  I discovered the photos on the D50 after Austen died.

These photos were taken by Austen in a colorful alley we visited behind the Prairie Moon Restaurant in Evanston, Illinois on May 26, 2012:

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“My self must be celebrated and not shunned.  My belief [is] that there is a force that lives within all of us and within the universe, a force of love and acceptance and great strength, that will help me conquer that which seems insurmountable.  I will be confident and I will be colorful because above all else I will BE MYSELF.”  ABB, July 4,  2012.

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“I am about to be 21 years old, I can believe in positivity and hope; I can find the missing pieces of my puzzle.  I have a good sense of humor and I need to use it, you can’t be scared while you’re laughing and life should be fun and joyful as much as [is] humanely possible.”  ABB, August 26, 2012.

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“I have to find myself.  Austen. Nice person, thoughtful, funny, sensitive in certain ways, generous, non-judgmental, open-minded, a writer, athlete, cool and unique, a dreamer, intelligent, self-aware, down-to-earth, loving, questioning, and deep. The sea of my soul is indeed many miles, with many intricacies and detours, but I never have lost sight of it, never started believing my own bullshit, never deceiving myself, because I knew what kind of person I am deep down.  In a sea of shallow minds, I refuse to be drawn in even when at times I am an ardent consumer of mass media.” ABB, August 29, 2012.

“I have to be in the moment, I have to be the moment, I have to be as real as real can be.  Look up always.”  Austen Berj Brooks, August 29, 2012.

That’s Life Though

AustenTaxi3-12-12As time goes by, I keep going back to Austen’s writings and find that I am able to read the words now more slowly, more carefully, more calmly, not afraid to breathe them in and let them flow out on their own accord. The excerpt below is from a 20-page document entitled ‘Writing,’ that Austen created on September 5, 2012 and added to in 2013, while he was a student at Indiana University.  It is not clear when he wrote this passage and the poetic lyrics within, but they are laced with tenderness, resignation, and a feeling of resurrection. And then here are the little gems like, “Inadequacy demands action not satiation of sadness.” He ends the passage with the last line from Bob Dylan’s song ‘Like A Rolling Stone’  – “When you ain’t got nothing you’ve got nothing to lose.” I am happy to share this with you and to share my love for a beautiful boy with a luminous mind.

I may not be pure, but my intentions can remain that way. I was blessed with a soul that can feel, a blessing and a curse truly. I let it get out of hand in the past, I swerved into the ditch. My drifter soul is what I need now, my artful essence is what will save me, my expectations thrown out the window, my systems disestablished, the system disassembled. I just have to be me, I just have to live and whatever happens is the story and I accept it. What has already happened has taught me a million things, hurt me a million times, stole from me all the innocence and glee of youth at too young an age, but I am here now, I am here now. Tomorrow I will appreciate the little things, and approach with the eyes of an infant. There is good within me, that’s why I haven’t given up hope, or given into my worst impulses.

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Austen walking down W. 54th Street in New York City, March 12, 2012, on his Spring break from Indiana University.  We were staying at The Warwick hotel.

I’ve walked on the softest of streets and the rockiest of roads, I’ve swam in the darkness and laid in the cold, I’ve wondered and wished and waited without you, I’ve called into nothing with hatred and spite, I’ve been told that there’s things that should be left to the light. I’m just trying to live, but to live is to suffer.

I’m hurting, I’m really hurting.
The knife is sharp but not unfamiliar.
I’m crying I’m really crying.
Maybe dying the time moves faster and faster.
I’m talking over what I need to listen to.
My feeling is one in a billion.
The scale is grandiose.

There is no grand transformation.
The steps are bound to be bound by indignation.
A great leap forward’s met by a stretch of retardation
And I can’t see clear with the past in my eyes.
And I can’t hear you dear when all your words are replies.
But I’ll keep running even though this life I do despise.
Aint that dark, aint that cold.

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Austen in Central Park in New York City, March 12, 2012.

That’s life though, that’s the brunt of it. The rest is now open. There isn’t nothing I can’t love. There isn’t a thing I can’t change. My heart’s still beating I tell you that much. I ain’t afraid, I ain’t afraid. Inadequacy demands action not satiation of sadness. When you ain’t got nothing you’ve got nothing to lose.
Austen Berj Brooks

Stand At The Junction Of Bliss & Insanity

I remember Austen texting me this photo he took of a snowy evening in Bloomington, Indiana, where he was a student at Indiana University. He later used the photo for a hand-made card he gave me on Christmas day, 2010 or 2011.

 As Christmas approaches, I miss his wish lists and links to possible gifts I could get him and those wonderful memories of he and his siblings padding downstairs at 2:00 am in the morning to see what Santa had brought them. Aside from getting gifts, he seemed to appreciate the magic of the season, the magic of the new blowing snow, of the colors in the night, of the feeling of being truly alive.

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Photo taken by Austen in downtown Bloomington, IN, December 5, 2010.

As 2015 comes to a close, words from Austen to take you through the holidays and into the new year with the force of ‘positivity’:

I am brimming with life, with creativity, spirituality, love and even greatness if I believe.  I can change my perceptions.  Nobody is going to love you and believe in you before you do.  It’s not for anyone else either.  It’s not to make someone jealous or outperform your peers. It’s because you know yourself.  You know that you are a person who is worth it. … If my internal world is positive, I can go forward without fear.  You can’t let your thoughts become so convoluted.  This is just a tactic.  Let your love out and breathe it back in.  Open your heart and your mind to the universe. Stand at the junction of bliss and insanity and be brave.
     Austen Berj Brooks, ‘Journey Through Sobriety,’ June 23, 2014.

 

The Tuesday Before Thanksgiving

Austen Berj Brooks
September 26, 1991 – November 25, 2014

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Although Austen died on November 25, which falls on a Wednesday this year, we will always associate his death with the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. We love you Austen and we miss you terribly but we also strive to make you proud of us every day as we carry on with our lives.  Always and forever.

Reading

“Infinite resignation.  Untouchable. Unharmed. Act naturally.  I am going to be myself with a passion that I’ve never had before.  I will throw my self-doubt off a sky scraper and dance in the rain of life.”
Austen Berj Brooks, September 14, 2012

An ‘Ofrenda’ In Honor Of Austen Berj Brooks

SugarSkull1Dia de los Muertos, the ‘Day of the Dead’ is a Mexican holiday that is celebrated on November 1 and 2, coinciding with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.  Here in Tucson, the tradition is richly recognized and culminates in an ‘All Souls Procession’ downtown.  Family and friends gather to pray for and remember those who have died and to help support their spiritual journey. Private alters are built honoring the deceased with sugar skulls, marigolds, favorite foods and mementos.  It’s a celebration of life, a joyful occasion of remembrance, in which death is recognized as a part of the natural process of living. 

AfricanMarigolds3After seeing a Día de los Muertos exhibit in Tucson recently, I felt inspired to look outside of myself and focus on Austen’s spiritual journey, especially as the one year anniversary of his death is approaching on November 25. So, in the spirit of joyful remembrance and love, I have put together a little alter – ofrenda – of my own, including some of his favorite ‘mementos’. 

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Austen Berj Brooks
September 26, 1991 – November 25, 2014

SoccerShoes

Soccer    Elite    High School    Travel

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Competitor

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Passion    Strong     A Fighter    Fierce

SoccerBalls

BazilBracelet

             Marigolds3Orange

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Mitts, balls and bat stored in his closet.

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Intelligent Smart            Savvy

HighSchoolGrad

High School Graduation from Grosse Pointe South.

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IUGrad

Graduation day from Indiana University.

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BurberryWatch

His watch.

Shoes

His collection of ‘The Hundreds’ shoes.

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Backpack

His prized backpack.

LovePeace

Love & Peace.

iPhone5s

Always up on technology.

Oakleys

Looking cool.

Sarmaboereg

Sarma and cheese boereg were his favorite Armenian delicacies.

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Austen&Sam

Austen and Sam in Tucson.

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“I don’t want to just say how it is, I want that flair, that personality, that swagger.  I lived it, I survived it, I got stronger, I fought my way back.  Let’s go.

Ride waves of positivity.  Follow the path in front of you. Be right, do right, good night.”
Austen Berj Brooks, July 9, 2014  marigoldscolors

“No One Can Ever Say That I Didn’t Try.”

As it gets closer to the one year anniversary of Austen’s death, I find myself in a more peaceful place, more able to deal with the onslaught of welcome and unwelcome memories, knowing that, whatever happens, I won’t have to go through that horrible day again, and the days that followed, ever. I am proud to be Austen Berj Brooks’ Mom and that will never cease. Here is an excerpt from his “Journey Through Sobriety,” written last year:

No one can ever say that I didn’t try.  That I didn’t look for solutions to my problems.  That I didn’t challenge myself and the world every day.  I’m not done.  I am 23.

The goal is not external success.  The goal is internal. Peace and love consciousness.  Victory over fear, depression, anxiety.  Great confidence coupled with awareness and humility.  Not needing things to be happy.  Not needing money.  Positivity, success and belief. Rising above cultural expectations and social norms.  Becoming a real genuine human being and enjoying my life.  Helping other people and understanding myself.  Being in the moment and being connected with the entire universe.  Seeing the truth and not running away from it.  This is what I need to strive for. Everything else will follow.  I am the first domino in the chain.
                                    Austen Berj Brooks, October 31, 2014

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Above, Austen at Scholars Inn Café in Bloomington, Indiana,  2011. Below, Austen having a laugh in a shed behind the house he was living in during his junior year.

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‘Thumbs Up’

Austen’s Birthday

Austen Berj Brooks was born 24 years ago today, September 26, 1991, at 6:57 a.m. He weighed in at a hefty 9 pounds, 8 ounces, was 21 1/2 inches long and had a 14 1/2 inch head.  He was almost one week late and looked like a 3-month old. Fortunately for me, he was my third baby and the delivery was so fast my doctor missed the birth.  That was just like Austen – take your time and then when you finally decide the moment is right, go for it.

Austen was named after one of my favorite authors, Jane Austen. I told him this one day when he and I were sitting on the couch watching the BBC’s version of Pride and Prejudice. He must have been around 4 years old. He looked up at me and said incredulously, “you mean I was named after a girl?,” only he couldn’t pronounce his r’s so ‘girl’ was more like ‘geeil.’ “Well,” I said, Jane’s father was Mr. Austen,” which seemed to pacify him.

Austen’s middle name, ‘Berj’, is an Armenian name which has various meanings depending on the source: superb, sumptuous, luxurious; magnificent, splendid; elegant. When we saw how big he was at birth, we quickly determined that ‘Berj” was a perfect middle name.

Here is what I wrote in “The Austen Journals” shortly after his birth:

Austen has come into the world surrounded by love from his parents, his sister and brother and his grandparents.  I cannot get over the amazement I feel when I look at him — amazement at his very being, his size, his good nature.  I don’t seem to be able to grasp the concept of a third child.  He is not a given, but something given to me as a kind of reward.  I am forever grateful for his being, his conception, the good pregnancy I had, his apparent health and vigor, his beauty, his wantedness.

And today I found a letter my mother wrote to Austen from Longboat Key, Florida, when Austen was 2 months old.  I believe I read this to him when it came in the mail and then I put it away safely in his baby album. At the beginning of the letter my mother presents her ‘resume’ and then expresses her gratitude:

Name:  Roxie Sahakian
Age:  64
Education:  marriage
Experience:  raised 3 daughters
Specialized in:  grandchildren
Courses:  pancakes, gatah (Armenian pastry)
Extra curricular:  loving 7th grandchild, Austen Berj.

How lucky I am to be your grandmother.  How lucky you are to have wonderful parents and siblings.  How lucky we all are to have each other.

As I reflect on all that’s happened, I have concluded that the day Austen was born was one of the best days of my life, a joyous day worthy of the happiest of memories – of all those family celebrations, those children’s parties, gifts, balloons, cakes, candles, birthday dinners in Bloomington, and then in Chicago. I am hopeful that on this day each year I will always feel a serene joy and a profound sense of love and gratitude. How lucky I am to be Austen’s mother.  And as his grandmother wrote, ‘How lucky we all are to have each other’.

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Austen’s 11th birthday celebration in 2002 with his maternal grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan.

Austen in Paris 2011

This week Austen’s brother, Lee Gaizak, started graduate school in Paris at the Panthéon-Sorbonne, also known as ‘Paris 1’. This is a dream come true for Lee. In 2010-2011, Lee was living in Paris and taking French classes at the Sorbonne.  Now he is taking philosophy classes in French and working on a Masters in modern European philosophy. While he was there in 2011, Austen and I traveled to Paris over Austen’s Spring break.

HotelWe arrived in Paris on an early morning in March and took a taxi to our hotel in Le Marais, a hip, historic part of Paris on the Right Bank.  As Lee had a morning class, we headed out on foot towards the Sorbonne, in no particular hurry, stopping along the way to take in the breadth of the city.

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First morning in Paris.

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Espressos at a café on the Place de la Sorbonne.

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Meeting up with Lee G, 2011.

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Lee G, September 2015.

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Austen and Lee G, 2011.

The next feMexicanRestaurantw days we walked everywhere, Austen using my iPhone to navigate, seeing the sights, exploring the neighborhoods, eating wonderful meals, where Austen attempted to order in French, much to the delight of the waiters, marveling at the scenery, the history, the culture, the bigness of the world. Photo: A French Mexican restaurant where we celebrated Lee’s 23rd birthday and where we all agreed that the margaritas were very strong.

ABLockNotre-Dame

On this trip, Austen was 19 years old and in his sophomore year at Indiana University. During the previous summer of 2010, Austen had been in a rehab program in Chicago and was getting help for his depression and addiction. But, the ‘problems’ he faced continued to preoccupy him. In a journal entry made during our trip to Paris, which I found after he died, he wrote:

“It’s like an obsession, I’m absolutely preoccupied with my problems, they control and consume me, I can’t free myself from their hold and just be alive and feel freedom.  I’ve tried a lot of things and I always end up in the same spot, even when I’m starting to feel good 10 minutes later I could be right back where I started, it’s hell, I live in hell, nobody could ever understand the frustration of just trying to take in the moment and life and not being able to separate myself from my problems.  A lot of it is the inevitability that I’m going to be fucked up on drugs, that one hurts…it’s corrosive to my soul.  See all I want is to forget all this, and I’m trying to do that, at least while I’m in france, but it is apart of me, it’s a tumor that cannot be removed, I want to do me, without the negativity….I have no choice but to ask for salvation, in this life or the next…”

ABPlaceSt.Michel2This is what makes a situation like Austen’s complicated – on the outside things looked fine most of the time. In public and in family situations he presented himself well, was very polite, upbeat and thoughtful.  I think he did enjoy himself in Paris, his natural curiosity finding refuge and perhaps distraction in a new place, a foreign adventure that gave him some sense of limitless possibilities and maybe hope – and maybe more than 10 minutes of feeling alive and free.

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Austen in the Tuileries Garden, approached by an African ‘entrepreneur’ who engaged Austen in conversation, placed a woven bracelet on his wrist and then wanted money for it. We declined.

StainedGlassNotreDameWhile Lee was in his classes, Austen and I explored Paris, the Left Bank, the Right Bank, mostly on foot, walking along the Seine. We saw the  Eiffel Tower, we viewed the art collections at the Musée d’Orsay, where Austen wanted to see paintings by Vincent Van Gogh.  We saw modern art at the Centre Georges Pompidou, we sat quietly in a pew at Notre-Dame, marveling at the majesty of the stained glass and intricate architectural details, we strolled through Luxembourg Gardens and the Tuileries by the Louvre and we walked by the American Embassy where my Aunt and Austen’s godmother, Anna Der-Vartanian, worked at some point. We talked, we shared observations and thoughts, we took breaks at little cafés and people-watched.

StarryNight

Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over The Rhone at the Musée d’Orsay.

I have asked myself repeatedly why such a beautiful mind and soul should have been so tormented at such a young age.  There is not and will never be a satisfactory answer, but I know he had more than a few moments where he felt good about himself, happy to be alive, free, and able to enjoy life, his family and his friends.

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At Lee G’s apartment in Paris. Austen admired his older brother for his passion, intellect and creativity. He would be so proud of what Lee is attempting to accomplish.

AB&SSLastNightParis3

Lee G took this photo on our last night in Paris. Austen is wearing the hoodie he picked out at the Paris Uniqlo store. He wore it often and it remained one of his favorites.

“Drifting Through Space and Time,” a poem by Austen Berj Brooks

From early on, Austen used words quite effectively to report on events, negotiate with the tooth fairy, chronicle his thoughts, feelings and perceptions.  During his sophomore year at Indiana University, he took a creative writing class, in which he created and revised this poem, originally titled ‘Drifting,’ as part of a poem workshop.  He told me at the time that he was thinking of changing his major to writing or journalism, but in the end he stayed with psychology and continued to use writing as an effective metaphor for his keen sensibility. Here is the final version of ‘Drifting’:

Drifting Through Space and Time

Peaceful noise on this starlit night,
The computer hums a constant tune.
Weighted shoulders resting at last,
With sinking eyes my mind will wander.
It searches systems for rhythm and sense,
A compass; something, to point me forward,
Toward what I know or proof I gather,
I drift away out to sea.

Memory imposes its will, a crisp
Picture, an arrogant youth.
His innocence quiet yet clearly pervasive,
His followers cautiously ask him for more.
The center of attention, he grabs it so easily,
Effortlessly holding it until tired or bored.
The class clown turned class king,
He wears the crown gladly,
But deep down what is there hidden, unseen at his core?

Once flowed like a river, without second thoughts,
Impulsive, unquestioning, before it was lost.
Before the first crash, before damage was done,
Yet with many more later, familiarity would come.
The machine’s automatic response at this point,
The pleasant technique that it had coined,
An array of beauty for eyes and minds,
Push out regrets and truths about time.
At once it taunts and inspires the same,
As I the actor, know actions can change,
Just one slice is missing, a feast is to come.
The shadows are dancing a slow motion waltz,
But all is quiet and still in this house.
A dream’s just a dream until it is not,
A thought’s just a thought until it’s let out.

Austen Berj Brooks, April 28, 2011

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Self-portrait of Austen posted by him on Facebook on
October 19, 2013.