Larry Meyers was a glass-half-full kind of guy in a glass-half-empty kind of world, and at times like this -- his windshield wipers slapping as he headed south with his family on Interstate 95, on a mission he was dreading, with a sniper still at large -- he couldn't help but entertain the thought, however briefly, that maybe the rest of the world had it right.
As the oldest of four brothers, it had fallen to him to straighten out the affairs of his brother Dean, who on Oct. 9, 2002, at the age of 53, had been shot in the back of the head, the seventh victim of the sniper terrorizing the Washington, D.C., area.
It was cloudy, cool and drizzly two days later, when Larry Meyers, his wife, Donna, and their adult son Jason left their homes in the dairy country of southeastern Pennsylvania for the quiet drive to Gaithersburg, where Dean had lived alone in the same house for 25 years.
"Obviously, it was not something any of us were looking forward to," Larry said later. "It was just something that had to be done -- to see what papers were there, see what was in the house, start taking stock and inventory."
Grim as the task was, it was, at least, a task. In the days after Dean's death, all three surviving brothers were dealing with it differently. Bob, the salesman, was finding strength in his faith and his experience two years earlier, when he lost his wife in a car accident. Greg, the artist, was still fighting bitterness, unable to get past the senselessness of it. But keeping busy, staying occupied, thinking about the next step -- that was Larry's way.
"I'm a process person," said Larry, a contemplative sort who, after a career in the welfare system helping the poor, now worked as a financial consultant, helping the wealthy.
Pulling up to Dean's house, Larry wasn't worried about any secrets he might uncover inside. For one thing, he was still too consumed by grief. For another, he knew Dean -- about as upright a guy as you could find. Dean had his private side. There were some things -- Vietnam, for instance -- that Dean didn't talk about much, but Larry wasn't expecting any surprises.
In the days that followed, though, plenty of secrets would surface -- through tiny slips of paper, stacks of correspondence and Dean's personal writings, from teen-age years to middle age, from thought-out essays in tidy journals to random thoughts scrawled on menus.
Dean, it turned out, had sponsored Third World children -- three boys in Kenya, two girls in Ethiopia -- through the World Vision Center, a Christian anti-poverty mission. Copies of the children's progress reports were found stashed in his car and house. His contributions, following some of the children to adulthood, had spanned 23 years.
He had also contributed generously to charities. One checkbook register showed 25 contributions in a two-week period, a nephew said. He gave to Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Police Athletic League, Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, Habitat for Humanity, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and, at least 46 times, to American Rivers.
Dean, apparently, had once found $1.30 on a street corner, taken it home, stuffed it in an envelope, labeled it with the location at which he found it and was holding on to it with the idea that, somehow, it might possibly be returned to its rightful owner.
Dean, who had never married and was known for living frugally, had inherited close to $500,000 from a friend of a cousin, and couldn't bring himself to keep it. For years, he had been a friend to the two elderly women, helping them get to doctor's appointments and pick up prescriptions. When the cousin's friend died, he was named executor and beneficiary. Rather than keep the money, he began tracking down the woman's relatives so he could distribute the money between them.
No member of the family, close knit as they were, had known any of it. Taken together, the discoveries shed new light on a man who, in life, had already earned respect from his brothers.
Now, in death, it was almost as if Dean -- a man who practiced random acts of kindness -- was helping guide them through the aftermath of a random act of violence, and all the emotions it triggered.
Larry Meyers was still caught up in many of those as he sifted through the contents of his brother's house: the anger, the questioning, the unshakeable sadness, and even fear. While in Gaithersburg, the family called police about a white van parked nearby -- the type police had said the sniper might be using. On the trip home, they didn't stop until they were well out of Maryland. Most troubling to Larry, though, was the apparent senselessness of it all -- the "why" question that seemed to throb as relentlessly as a bad headache.
Before leaving his brother's townhouse, Larry spotted a piece of paper on Dean's drafting table -- not Dean's own writing, but clearly something his brother had saved. "My To Do List," it was titled.
"Practice replacing love for anger."
"Never surrender to negative emotions."