Stuart Larsen Garcia
Stuart’s Ascension: As witnessed by his sister
Lots of people think their brother was special and my brother Stuart certainly was. But it was more than that. There was an air of spiritual magic about him. Magic in his coming, magic in his being, magic in his going.
I was 16 and a junior in high school when he was born. Because he came to my mother later in life some people speculated that he might have been my son rather than my brother. I would have been proud to be his mother and there’s no doubt that our relationship was more like that of a mother and son than a brother and sister because of our age difference. He was the most extraordinary person I have ever known and our very special relationship was sparked the first time I held him in my arms.
When Stuart came home from hospital I was allowed to carry him from the car into our home. He was so alert I decided to take him on a home tour. As I walked from room to room pointing out the features, what started as a ripple of emotional insight became a tidal wave that swept over me, determined the course of my life and the connection forged between a fairly typical teenager and an awesome infant.
As we walked through the house I realized with growing intensity that this little baby was very special and that I must protect him. From another place came an equally powerful and sudden gut-wrenching sense of loss. I understood simultaneously that he was here for a purpose, that he was a child with a mission but that he would not be with me for long. Once the mission was completed he would be gone – back to whatever star he came from.
I was angry. I told God with all the power I could muster that He could not have him. He was in my care and I would fight to protect him with every fiber of my being. I was dedicated to his survival and that commitment set my life on a course that lasted through all our time together.
Stuart accompanied me just about any place I could take him. We went shopping, errand running and he even came on dates with me and my boyfriends until I left for college. I remember telling one of my friends, when Stuart was three years old, that I thought he might be a little “different”. He wasn’t effeminate but he wasn’t at all like other male children. Instead of joining the other boys in his kindergarten class in toppling classmates’ castles made of blocks, he comforted the children whose works of art were knocked down by the other boys. He preferred music, art and reading to sports and shoot-outs. His kindness, good looks and creativity allowed him to make friends easily.
At three years of age Stuart was able to read the morning newspaper to my father at the breakfast table. When he stumbled over big words the little boy figured out their sounds phonetically until he could say them. Sometimes my father would assist him with correct inflexions and explain the meanings of the words. Intellectually, Stuart was gifted. Emotionally, though, he was still a little boy. Conversations with Stuart were conducted on an adult level so it was hard to remember that he was just a baby and we often expected too much from him.
Our mother, a pre-school teacher, saw that her son needed intellectual challenges to keep him interested in his studies. There was no program in Austin, Texas, for children like Stuart. He had been lucky that he had been able to attend excellent schools until 6th grade and that his teachers, who delighted in seeing their student excel, gave him special attention. But when Stuart got to seventh grade “bussing” children to schools out of their neighborhoods had started in Austin as an attempt to integrate the public schools. Stuart’s new school was one of the roughest in Austin. When he got to Baker Jr. High he was unprepared for the culture he found there.
Seeing a new kid in the school hallway, one of the gangs wasted no time in mugging him, roughing him up, taking his watch and lunch money. My parents wanted to remove him from the school immediately. But Stuart refused to go. Quitting wasn’t on his radar and he wanted to learn from the kids at Baker. Typical of Stuart, he developed a win-win strategy to cope with the problem.
My brother was a smallish eleven year old. He realized the leader of the tough guys was a large 15 year old who was being held back because he had failed several grades and could not read and write. A deal was made which later grew into a friendship. Stuart would teach him to read and write and in turn would be protected. Stuart made sure the young man passed 8th grade and in turn got some worry-free street cred. The young man learned to respect brainpower.
Seeing such a need for challenging schools for gifted kids, our mother went to work to create gifted school program and together with another teacher introduced the program to the Austin schools. The next year Stuart attended St. Stephens School – a private school where my mother became a board member. Best of all, his life long best friend, Mark Bowman attended school there, too and the two matured into fine young leaders.
When Stuart was 12, I came home from college one time to find my mother sitting alone in the kitchen crying. My mother was a strong woman – she never cried. She dried her tears when she saw me and pretended nothing was wrong but her red eyes betrayed her. She was miserable. She said she felt she had nothing left to offer her son – he had outgrown her. He was smarter than she. We talked for a while before she accepted that all twelve year-old children need mothering – no matter how smart they may be.
My parents had a rocky marriage and a year later it was really starting to unravel.
My sister and I had homes of our own by then. The tension in the family home was awful, and Stuart was being pulled apart by our parents’ broken spirits. They both loved him very much and he took advantage of their devotion to him and convinced them that he should go to Spain for a year or two to study Spanish. He left home as an exchange student and stayed with the Cunill family in Barcelona for two years.
When my parents told me they had given Stuart permission to study in Spain I felt sick. There was no way I could protect him while he was so far away from home. To survive worrying about him in his absence some things had to change for me. I convinced myself that my feelings of fear for Stuart were unfounded. I apologized to God for thinking that I had to protect my brother from Him; he was a loving God, after all, who only wanted the best for all his children. He would care for my brother and keep him safer than I ever could. Consciously, I handed him back to God for safekeeping. I thanked him for loving Stuart.
Stuart fit right into the Cunill family and he became their 8th child – an adopted but well loved family member. While he was living with them the family often made trips to ski in Andorra and to visit with their friend who was the president of that small country. The politician’s wife found Stuart to be a promising young man and taught him to ski and to speak Catalan fluently. Stuart was sorry to leave his adopted family and the country he had learned to love so much. By the time he came home my parents were divorced. Stuart lived with our Mom and went back to High School. By then finances had taken a turn for the worst as a result of the divorce and Stuart would need to find a scholarship to attend University. Fortunately, he had no problem finding several opportunities.
Stuart was offered places at top State and Ivy League universities. He chose Columbia in New York where he majored in Journalism and met kindred spirits and talented friends – people who would contribute much to Stuart’s life and to the world. My young brother became a community leader in New York, an activist and a graduate of Columbia University where he had been president of his class and served in the University Senate. He spoke five languages fluently and, while he was a student, worked as a language interpreter at Columbia for visiting dignitaries. As young journalists, he and his friend Mark traveled to the Far East to gather information and report what they found. Often what they reported was not same story we read in the American Press.
Stuart was focused on service to humanity and dedicated to equality for all. He traveled to Nicaragua to help with that nation’s first democratic vote and to work with the Catholic Church and the Maryknoll Sisters to monitor the election polling stations and tally results. He led student protests against Apartheid, served in soup kitchens, cared for the needy. Stuart gave a whole lifetime of service to people everywhere in his short twenty-three years on earth. In short, he was an amazing human being.
Since he was a little boy, Stuart and I had a Christmas Eve tradition. After filling his Christmas stocking I would crawl in bed with him and we would talk deep into the night until we both fell asleep. The next morning we would go into the living room to see what Santa had brought. The Christmas when Stuart was twenty was when he told me he was Gay. I was not surprised and his sexual preference made no difference to me but I was concerned that his life would be tougher as a Gay man than a “straight” one – and I told him how I felt. Half laughingly I asked him if he could please change his mind. He didn’t see the humor and said, “Kay, do you think anyone in his right mind would CHOOSE to be gay? Of course I can’t change my mind and I know a Gay life is tougher – but this is not a choice. It’s who I am! Stuart contracted AIDS a year later, one of the first in New York to have the deadly disease.
As my brother lay dying in his hospital bed, my mother, my sister, and Stuart’s friend Father Bernard Lynch and I gathered around him. Stuart was in a coma but we wouldn’t leave him. After several nights vigil we were exhausted and all fell asleep at our various posts stationed around his room. I was sitting in a chair at Stuart’s bedside with my hand on his arm and head resting on his bed, next to his chest. Suddenly, I snapped awake. Something was different – I could feel it physically. My first thought was to check my brother’ breathing. I opened my eyes.
Surrounding Stuart’s body, like someone had drawn an outline around it with a pen, was a tiny line of shimmering electric gold. Slowly, it started to grow and became more intense. When it was about an inch high around his body I woke up the others and asked if they could see it. But they could not.
The electric gold line shimmered and expanded until, at about three inches high, it evolved into small golden arches. The arches expanded until they reached about eight to ten inches above their golden base and then dissolved into hues of lavender, then bright purple, then dark purple. As the lights were dancing around him, I described the phenomenon to the others in the room who were looking where I was pointing but they couldn’t see what was happening. I knew instinctively I was watching Stuart’s spirit leave his body. The shimmering colors started to dissipate into lighted dust particles at about two feet above my brother’s bed and at 3 feet the tiny lights had completely disappeared. The whole phenomenon lasted about two or three minutes. His body died nearly two days after his spirit had left it.
For the first few years after Stuart’s death I thought about his ascension almost everyday. Some days I doubted what I saw and told myself I had created the event in my imagination to sooth my grieving mind. Then one day, while accompanying my husband to a television production meeting in Edinburgh, I joined him and an associate, Chris George, for breakfast.
Before he was television set designer, Chris had served as a Monk in Tibet for several years learning Transcendental Meditation. He left the monastery to teach TM to people everywhere as part of his spiritual mission. Chris was late for our breakfast meeting but made no apologies. He was smiling – he looked “at peace” as he sat down at our table. He explained that he was delayed because he had witnessed an amazing event that he had heard about from his Buddhist brothers but had never seen for himself.
A dog had been run over on the road outside his hotel and he had rushed to give the poor creature comfort as it died. As he cradled the dog’s head in his hands a yellow glow surrounded the body of the dog, which then turned into golden arches and eventually changed into purple and then dissipated into the air. He explained that he had witnessed the dog’s spirit leave its body.
Although I thanked the Lord for allowing me to witness my brother’s spirit leaving his body, my anger towards God was huge. I had retired from my post as Stuart’s protector, in good faith, and God took him while I thought Stuart was in His care. No matter how often I have tried to rationalize Stuart’s death, the struggle to forgive God for taking him has never gone away.
It is hard for me to see anything positive in Stuart’s early death. I think of all the lives he touched in the short time he was with us and wonder how much more he could have done if had he been allowed to stay. They say that time heals but in my case it has not. The wound caused by Stuart being ripped away from me is as open now as it was all those years ago.
The only thing even remotely positive is this. Stuart’s death brought my husband Conor into my life. He made a documentary about Fr. Bernard Lynch and, in it told part of Stuart’s story. We met on the first anniversary of Stuart’s passing and now, 28 years later, I often think bringing Conor and me together was Stuart’s way of taking care of me - of saying, "Thank you".
There are very few days I do not think of Stuart. The days I miss him most are when a dove visits my backyard and I know that the peaceful, vibrant soul of my brother, is missing me too.