My brother David Serko died November 23, 1992 from complications of AIDS. I was with him at the moment he took his last breath. It was an incredible event to witness and be part of. The weeks leading up to his death I describe as the “richest” days of my life, I have never felt so alive.
Little did I know that our final conversation just 12 hours earlier would change the course of my life. Struggling to breathe and in terrible pain, he whispered, “listen to your heart, promise me you will do that”. I was taken aback by this simple request. I knew what he meant but I knew I had no idea how to live it.
I made a promise to myself … one day I would tell the story of his life and death. I didn’t know how, or when, or in what form this story would take, but I knew for certain that one day I would do it… I had no choice, it had to be told.
In the years following his death, I struggled mightily. The depressive tendencies that had subtly plagued me in my late 20s and early 30s now emerged full-blown. I was a wreck and in deep trouble. I was haunted by his request, I wanted to live it but didn’t know how. I felt lightyears away from any sense what might be called “listening to my heart”.
I was a stay at home dad at the time with 3 kids. Although I found my role rewarding in many ways I, like many women I suspect, felt trapped. How was I going to get out of this? How was I going to re-enter the working world AND do so with any semblance of work that felt rewarding? And most of all… how was I going to find the key to my heart?
Thankfully I had a doctor friend who came to my aid and put me on Prozac. It helped but not for long, we switched to Zoloft for awhile and then one morning after putting my son Michael on the bus for school I came home and got back into bed and didn’t wake-up at 2:30 pm! Horrified by what happened I knew I had to stop the meds… the next day I tossed the rest of the pills in the garbage.
What happened next was totally unexpected; I started going to church. Raised Russian Orthodox I had been away from the Church since 1972. Two Orthodox monks had established a monastery on the island (coincidence?) where we lived. I had befriended them but never really took part in services in a serious way. One Saturday I went with them to a service in Seattle and that was it, I came back to the Church. In my eastern spiritual dabbling in my college years I had come upon the notion of “a path of the heart”. Simply put, it is a path that relies on love and devotion as the corner stone of spiritual practice and growth. I saw the approach of the Orthodox Church as “a path of the heart”. It was my heritage, the spiritual center of my ancestors and as I recall from reading Ram Das many years ago, an important consideration for any spiritual seeker. In my mind perhaps the Orthodox Church was the way to fulfill my brother’s request, a way to beginning “listening to my heart”. I’ll give it a try.
I was all in. I served as a canter, sang in the choir (for awhile in a Russian choir that only sang in Church Slavonic), served in the altar, founded a new parish, even enrolled in a clergy training program. Like I said, I was all in … it lasted about ten years, I’m not longer a church goer. I miss it in some ways but I found it hard to swallow everything the Church teaches. In my mind you need to be all in or nothing, half-way doesn’t cut it. “I’ll accept this but not that”, I don’t think that how it should work. I will write more about my journey (and my ten year attention span) one of these days but suffice to say returning to church may have saved my life.
The next step in my journey was the discovery of my artistic bent, through photography. I have written about this elsewhere so I won’t go into it here.
I finally made good on that promise in 2013 by starting The David Serko Project. My goal was to discover more about my brother’s life. I wanted to find people who knew him, I wanted to hear their stories. You will find an entire website devoted to the Project and the plays and film that emerged out of it. The discoveries I made during the Project were many, one of the most significant and affirming was I realized that I was an artist all along! I credit my brother David’s wish with planting the seed.