It was afternoon in early October 2016, and I was sitting on the back porch of Dennis Aubrey’s home in Ohio. The trees were mid-stride in their annual dance of change; birds cried out to each other in the golden glow of light and leaves.
I had just asked him to tell me about his brother Steve. Dennis, like me, was an older brother. The two of them had a pretty strained relationship, and they weren’t very close. It was a pattern that I saw emerging in my own life, and I asked Dennis if, before Steve’s death from cancer in 2014, they had been able to find some kind of reconciliation.
They sat and talked for a few hours, and though Dennis never said exactly what they spoke about, I remember how he described the way he felt with utmost clarity: “All the shit just slid away.” I would like to think that Steve, in his dying days, felt about the same.
There are many stories that people close to Dennis can share with you. He was an incredibly talented and gregarious man with many interests and skills. He was a brilliant photographer; he knew every important name and date in the last thousand years of French history; he was a successful entrepreneur; he held an MFA in theater and directed everything from plays to TV ads in his early adult life after graduating from Carnegie Mellon.
I knew him because of our mutual love and interest in Romanesque architecture. Dennis is responsible for one of my fondest memories from when I traveled; he and PJ invited me to spend a week with them in the Ardeche region of southern France. From the first time I visited their blog, Via Lucis, it was apparent we were kindred spirits.
As I sat with him and his loving cat Rudy on the porch that day in October, he taught me an important lesson: the confirmation that it was never too late to ask for forgiveness, but that it was a shame to let an entire lifetime go by before seeking redemption.
In his last days alive, Dennis had an experience which, frankly, defies all reason. He was religious, but constantly battled doubt in his faith. The words of the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, “I shall spend my life struggling with the mystery, even without any hope of penetrating it, because this struggle is my hope and my consolation. Yes, my consolation. I have become accustomed to finding hope in desperation itself,” are an apt description of Dennis’ struggle with belief. In his final days on our pale blue dot hurtling through the black, it seems that he saw the light.
And I think, knowing where he felt closest to the God he sought, you can see it too.
It’s early morning in Vezelay. In front of you is a great medieval tympanum. Christ in majesty greets you, his hands raised, his robes swirling with cosmic power.
You enter the nave. There is a wall of light flooding your vision as you walk forward.
Each arch above you takes you closer to the rim of life. You reach the altar; the stones are humming; La Madeleine is singing.
It’s time. Buen camino, my dear pilgrim. I’ll miss you.