The death of Sean Brooks

Sean Brooks wanted to fly. He knew it was his vocation from his earliest days. Even as a child, he watched airplanes move across the sky. He made his daddy, Michael, take him to airports. He loved everything about airports, even the baggage carousels.

Knowing your call, your vocation in life, is a spiritual gift. It comes from listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in your life.

The great French aviator and writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, wrote, "Whether we call it sacrifice, or poetry or adventure, it is always the same voice that calls."

I think that voice is the voice of God.

But Sean's vocation was frustrated by his left hand. He was born with a congenital deformity of the left hand; his hand did not grow, nor did he develop fingers.

The military services and the Federal Aviation Administration said that he could not fly without a functioning left hand. That may have been a good rule in general, but in Sean's case it should not have applied.

Sean's lack of a left hand never stopped him from doing anything. I remember watching in stunned amazement as Sean tied his shoes with one hand.

I said to him, "Do that again."

Always a sunny sort of kid, he quickly untied and tied his sneakers again.

Amazing.

Once when he was at a training camp for high school leaders, he had to climb a 30-foot pole, and then swing on a trapeze bar 30 feet in the air.He did it with one hand.

Again, amazing.

Sean wrote in his college application essay: "I had to innovate to find a method of climbing that worked for me. Much as I have always innovated, because I cannot do things the way everyone else does."

Notice that he did not say that he could not do things. He just said that he could not do things the way everyone else does them.

Sean did a turnaround in his vocation, too. Since the path to flying as a pilot was blocked, he decided to become an air traffic controller. That way he could be around airplanes and airports, which he loved. So he went to the "Harvard of the skies," Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. It was perfect for him.

But two weeks before his graduation, Sean was killed in a motorcycle accident. We will never know the complete details.

As in everything else, Sean had figured out how he could control a motorcycle. He was a skilled rider. For a moment, however, he lost control and plowed into the rear of a van.

When a young person such as Sean dies, it sends a shudder through the community. Both at the university in Florida and at his home in Maryland, his death was a spiritual sonic boom. This great kid, perfect in every way except for his left hand, was suddenly taken from us.

There are no words that we could say to his mother, his father and sister. Only faith and time can ease the pain. The only thing friends can do is be there.

The day of his funeral, it seemed like our whole community stopped by. Hundreds of people came to the church and prayed. We displayed his airplane models and aviation maps in our parish hall.

Sean's death was a cruel tragedy, but his life was a great blessing, demonstrating that it is a wonderful thing to know what God has made you for. It is a spiritual gift to know what you love and to pursue that dream despite all of the obstacles.

Now Sean dwells with the angels, where there are no barriers to flight.

Fr. Daly is pastor of St. John Vianney Church in Prince Frederick, Md.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011