He’s Na Heavy. He’s Mi Brither

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stephen 2012This song has been on my mind since my brother died.

There is a small dug-out bar which plays all of the classics on vinyl. It is located next to the cafe I was sitting in when my brother died. The night he died, I went into the cafe and requested this song while having a quiet beer thinking that there would be no more opportunities to do that with my brother himself.

While the original version is from The Hollies, I prefer this cover recorded in the wake of the Hillsborough tragedy.

Like we are seeing in Sydney now, loss and tragedy brings the best out in everyone.

The title for the song comes from a story first recorded in 1884 of a scene in Scotland of a little girl struggling with her brother who she is dragging up some stairs in a bag. Somehow appropriate given the situation I find myself in, especially as I have my sights to head to Glasgow next.

The lyrics for this song are lovely, and need no explanation. Please read them, and I think you will also know why this song resonates with me at the moment.

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We’ll get there
For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all
I’m laden with sadness
That everyone’s heart
Isn’t filled with the gladness
Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there
Why not share?
And the load
Doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

He’s my brother
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother


Sorry Business

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In hospital with my brother and his son Xander. It is the difficult days that bring you closer together.
In hospital with my brother and his son Xander. It is the difficult days that bring you closer together.

My brother, Stephen, died last week fairly suddenly following what could best be described as complications associated with leukaemia. Stephen had faced every challenge thrown at him head on with impressive courage.

I was in Seoul when my mother told me he was admitted into hospital at the beginning of last week. I asked him if I should return immediately to see him in Melbourne, and he responded in his typically stoic and pragmatic manner: “No, don’t come back. Stay there and keep doing what you are doing.”

My brother and I shared a mutual admiration, which we showed in ways that other people might not recognise. His words to me were his way of showing not just that he valued what I was doing, but that he was proud of me for having the courage to set out on an uncertain journey.

This uncertain journey has become an epic quest which is called the 10 City Bridge Run, and framed around a stunt where I am running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries. The point of the stunt is to open a conversation asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

The question of child survival was always a very personal matter for my brother and I. Together, we carried the small white coffin of his baby son Xander out of the church following his funeral when he had died of medical complications after living a short life of 36 hours.

Similarly, I learnt of the amazing ability of medicine to combat a disease like leukaemia after my brother was first diagnosed two years ago. Conversely, I saw the way disease can take its toll through my brothers death. The human body is remarkably resilient, and remarkably fragile both at the same time.

My good friend Gloria is a wonderful Aboriginal lady who has taught me a lot about Indigenous culture. We have been involved on a number of work tasks together where Aboriginal culture was the central issue driving the project.

She wrote me a lovely note in the wake of my brother’s death, and passed on her regards “as I went about my sorry business with my family” to use her words.

I responded with thanks, acknowledging her comment about sorry business, but still thinking it was more akin to a mourning period rather than something that you actually do. For all of the conversations I have had with many Indigenous friends over the years, the penny hadn’t dropped.

I think she understood, because she wrote back the next day with an unsolicited, lovely comment:

Trust your intuition cause whatever you do to respect his memory will be the right thing to do Matt. You will know what to do for sorry business 

It was a remarkable note, because I was wanting to make sense of my brother’s final words to me and it seemed at the time that the journey I was on was an appropriate way to honour my brother’s legacy. I began to see that my eulogy was to be action-orientated.

Gloria’s words didn’t persuade me either way, but they did frame my thoughts in a way that was helpful.

I contacted my family to talk about what I ought to do. This wasn’t a decision I was going to make independently or in isolation. They immediately understood exactly why I was thinking to do this and supported me entirely.

Now, I am writing this post from Seoul ahead of my brother’s funeral on Friday. I will remain in Seoul at that time, and go and sit quietly in the small cafe where I was when he died. It is a friendly place whose owners I know well and has good wifi. Just as I was able to be connected to my brother at the time of his death, I will also be able to be connected to my family at the time of his funeral.

After the funeral, I expect I will go and have a quiet meal somewhere with a few friends, and then set about recommencing my journey first headed towards Glasgow. It would be my intention to gather for a wake in New York after completing this journey, and be back in Melbourne in time to celebrate the New Year with my mother.

I wanted to write this here, both as a way of picking up the journey which was gone a bit silent over the last few weeks as I looked for inspiration for the way ahead, but also to explain why I chose to continue at a time when social expectation might be for me to return to be with my family at the funeral.

I know my brother would approve and admire my determination to persist, so that together we can make a difference to the lives of many.

Son Kee-chung: Unknown Hero Making Incredible Things Possible

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IMG_2110Son Kee-chung is among the all-time world’s running greats. And he is almost unknown outside of Korea.

Why is he so significant? He smashed the existing world record in 1935 for marathon running 2:26:14, beating the previous record which had stood for the previous 10 years. After setting the record in 1935, it stood for another 12 years until one of his trainees set a new time at the Boston Marathon in 1947.

Son Kee-chung is best known for winning the marathon at the 1936 Berlin Olympics where he ran under the Japanese flag because of the colonial annexation of Korea in 1910. Defiantly, at the medal ceremony, Son Kee-chung sought conceal the Japanese flag on his uniform and remains a political act of Korean patriotism that continues to be widely celebrated in Korea.

He went on to become an exceptional coach, not only training Suh Yun-bok for his 1947 win, but also ensuring first, second and third places to Korea in the 1950 Boston Marathon, as well as Hwang Young-cho who won gold for South Korea after winning the marathon at the 1982 Barcelona Olympics.

His legacy is one of inspiration. Visiting Son Kee-chung’s old primary school in Seoul that has been turned into a Memorial Centre, the Manager summed up Son Kee-chung’s legacy in one word as: “challenge”.

It is the adaption of a quote from Son Kee-chung that inspires the theme of a human bridge for the book Life Bridge which will help to illustrate the importance of our connections in overcoming challenges. Son Kee-chung said, and I have adapted the words to replace his mention of ‘the human body’ with ‘the human bridge’:

The human bridge makes incredible things possible when supported by strong commitment and passion.

I will be running the seventh leg of the 10 City Bridge Run here in Seoul on this Sunday at the Son Kee-chung Marathon event.