When Brother Becomes Ancestor

me and zin

Soundtrack: Zin “Baby”

So it’s been about 28 hours since I got the word that my big bro Wali “Zin” Aqueel had lost his physical life. I went through the first three stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining) pretty quickly, and got stuck on Depression. Confusion. Numbness. Unable to process what the hell is going on.

Even after attending the candlelight vigil in his honor last night, and hugging all of me and Zin’s mutual friends like my life depended on it, I still went home and felt numb.

Vacillating emotions. Wishing my mind and heart would just calm down and stop jumping all over the place.

I drank myself to sleep. I talked to several of my loved ones today who said they didn’t sleep last night. They should’ve used liquor.

I was stuck on a philosophical question. Over the past 10 years of our friendship, I’ve watched Zin become a better and better all-around human being. His physical health improved. He got better at living up to his own lofty ideals about how to treat people and how to be an asset to the community. And yet, a billion assholes were able to wake up this morning and my brother was not.

What’s the point of trying to be a good person when life is so fragile and unpredictable? Why not just live fast and die young?

But I’m too invested in self improvement and community development for me to stay bogged down in that space for too long.

At some point today I started to think about all the things I learned from Wali (I never referred to him as Zin when I was speaking directly to him, only when speaking about him to other people). He taught me how to rock my culture as a proud African man without being corny or pretentious. He taught me how to get the ultimate benefits from the fast of Ramadan. He taught me how to produce a song — apart from just making a beat, he was great at bringing out the best in musicians and vocalists to perfectly execute a musical vision. He taught me how to work cheerfully to accomplish a goal while making zero excuses. The list goes on.

He taught me all of these things without ever saying, “come here let me teach you something.” He led and taught by example. He never took on the posture of a teacher or role model or mentor with me, even though he was 7 years older than me. I first met him around the time that he was turning 33 and I was turning 26, we’re both Aquarians. He had already been down the road that I was just starting on.

We worked side-by-side on a series of projects and campaigns. All of which provided rich memories and small victories. None of which reached the heights that I had hoped for. At some point, I (subconsciously) decided that I needed to do something big. I needed to claim a huge victory in life and in art that would allow me to reach back and help my brother in the way that he had helped so many others.

I’m still working on that big win. But he’s no longer here to cheer me on and show me that he believes in me in the way that only he could do. At first, I felt extreme regret over what was left undone and unsaid. However, in now coming into the Acceptance stage of my grief, I’m overcoming the regret. I realize that the only way for me to move forward is to work even harder for my victories. I’m still trying to make him proud. I never realized before that I was doing so, but it’s true.

I will make him proud and I will still reach back and help him. In the form of his wife and his daughters.

Speaking of which, I was with him on the day that he met his wife. She was on a brief visit to Houston. He knew immediately that she was gonna be his bae. That’s one of my fondest memories of my brother. I watched him rise in love. And that love still burns strong.

Zin was the muthafuckin man. That’s the moral of the story.

To be continued