Friday, January 10, 2014

My Brudder

The subject of sibling relationships has been on my mind intermittently for the last couple of years. It started when I began to conscientiously observe the dating game a few years ago. I started to notice the discrepancy between the gentlemanly care and protective affection men expressed for their sisters, versus the selfishness with which they approached the girls that they were trying to date. The very thing they would literally beat you unconscious for doing to their sister, they were doing to women on the regular. It also made me more aware of the way I interacted with guys I dated. The thought would often cross my mind- "Would I want a girl to treat my brother this way?" Conversely, when watching men date, I would ask "do you want someone to treat your sister this way?"

Recently I began to actively notice that in Paul's biblical epistles, he frequently addressed his audience as "brothers and sisters." That re-sparked a curiosity... what is so special about sibling relationships that Paul wanted to emulate it?

I don't have sisters, but I do have two little brudders, Conor and Jack, who light up my life. If you know me, you've probably heard me gush about them. I adore them. In fact, today is Conor's birthday. In honor of him, my little prince, I decided to jot down my thoughts on the potentially world-changing power of sibling love.
aren't they CUTE?!!

Today, he is 20 years old- but that's irrelevant because he's been going on 30 since he was able to walk. We used to joke that he was going to run a small country one day. As he's gotten older, I think the only laughable part of that joke has become the bit about the "small" country. The kid is a social wizard. He was the most popular guy in Buchanan High School's class of 2012, and he didn't go to Buchanan. He was homeschooled. (He also went to more high school dances than I did... and I thought I was pretty cute in high school.)

His ability to relate to people, to call out the best of them, and to make them feel seen and valued, is world class. It's so sweet to watch. And having been his sister for a few years now, I can say with validity that I've seen very few people show such relentless, selfless devotion to the people they care about. Conor is an incredible friend. He likes to build people up, almost to the point of embarrassment for some of them. He has contagious confidence.

This isn't to say that he is perfect. He can be quick tempered and pretty freaking belligerent when you wake him up (NEVERWAKEHIMUP). He enjoys being controversial and sometimes it comes back to bite him in the face, but he is quickly developing the humility that one would hope to see in a person of his caliber. As his sister, I have a front row seat to his failures and growing/learning experiences. But as his sister, I'm free to omit those accounts from this narrative, because he's my brother and I protect him, and I prefer to highlight his triumphs and successes. This is how siblings should be. We know their darkness and we can call them out on it, but simultaneously shield them from the criticism of unforgiving eyes.

Someone with Conor's gifting, but without his character, compassion, and humility, could easily end up being a mercilessly manipulative, socially networking, womanizing bastard like John Mayer- did I mention my brother is ridiculously good looking and a remarkably gifted songwriter? And the kid's got style. Seriously. I'd ask him to choose my clothes erryday if he lived here.

I'm actually tougher on him than other people will be, because I don't want my validation to be cheap, and because I think he deserves to hear the hardest truth from someone who loves him unconditionally. And he's just talented. He's written incredibly poignant and poetic, catchy songs since age 14. He played on Channel 24's morning show Great Day, formed a band, did a multi-state tour, made a music video, and traveled to Nashville to do co-writes with American Idol finalists- by the time he was 18. If he wasn't my brother I'd probably hate him for being "that guy" and I'd assume all sorts of terrible things about him. If I didn't know Conor, I might all him egotistical, because he's confident. I'd call him arrogant, because he isn't afraid to challenge people regardless of their status. I'd call him cocky, simply because he's good looking and not at all shy. I'd call him gay, because there's no way you can be that well dressed and like women.

But I do know him. I know his weaknesses, and I know his strengths. I know he is predominantly motivated by good intentions, even if they may get lost in the shuffle sometimes. I cant think of many people whose company I legitimately enjoy more than his. As with most siblings, we can have an entire conversation comprised solely of inside jokes and a nonsensically strung together series of movie quotes. We can communicate with one word, and this makes us unstoppable in Catchphrase. I can tell him the most offensive joke on the planet and he won't judge me, because, well-  he IS the most offensive joke on the planet. That's the beauty of our relationship. We know each other's best and worst. This is why it's possible for me to very calmly claim that he is a totally obtuse moron, and simultaneously rationally assert that no woman on earth is good enough for him (I can be bought).

The safety of a healthy, loving sibling relationship lies in the fact that we are on the same team, with no unsafe ties to bind. I know they're handsome men, but they're my brothers, so my objective awareness of their attractiveness is correspondent with my objective disinterest in them as sexual beings. It's the same thinking that makes you want to kill your little sisters boyfriend for kissing her, or makes you want to vomit at the thought of your parents having sex. You know it's happening, but by God you hope you never have to know it's happening. There is no place for sexuality in these relationships. It's like a safe house. Sexuality is inherently dangerous; it's far more powerful and more instinctive, something that compromises objectivity and makes you so frighteningly human that the thought of your parents -- who tie your shoelaces, handle your student loans, and in all other ways represent beacons of stability-- engaging in any instinctive, quasi-animalistic, emotionally heightened activity actually makes you physically uncomfortable.

The lack of this sexual dynamic makes siblings implicitly safer than virtually any other human relationship.  Your siblings are your safest bet; unlike your parents, with siblings there is no hierarchical boom-lowering. You can let them know you flunked your chemistry class because you were too lazy to study, and they aren't going to ground you. They can acknowledge some otherwise non-neutral realities about you (your fugliness, your inability to balance a checkbook or to commit to a relationship, your Tourettes syndrome) and it doesn't affect their relationship to you.

Paul's treatment of the church as a group of sisters and brothers is useful because... imagine what the world would be like if we treated everyone like they were our sisters and brothers rather than sexual objects or people to be leveraged against and conquered? If we could see one another for who they are and not for who they could be for us? If we treated each others failures as a moment rather than a monument? If we celebrated each others successes like they were our own? If we didn't compulsively sexualize each other and make everything a flirtation? This line of reasoning is particularly useful for singles.

How do we become safe places for other people? Perhaps we haven't had healthy sibling relationships and that is what muddies the water. But I'm grateful for my brothers. Because they're alive, I'm permitted the joy of relating to two of the most incredible, talented, hilarious, good-looking, smart, gifted young men who are required to answer my text messages and give me things on my birthday. If you don't have siblings like this... it's completely possible. Everyone deserves to be seen fully and still have the best believed about them, to be safe enough to fail and celebrated when they don't. And if you don't have a brother, you can love mine. I mean, LOOK AT HIM!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Misgivings on Forgivings

"If you don't forgive someone who's wronged you, you become just like them."

Ever heard this argument? I always thought there must have been some merit to the statement, but I couldn't wrap my head around it.  Shoeless Joe Schmoe broke into your house and jacked your sneakers, and if you don't forgive him, you're going to become a mangy, sneaker-stealing thief, too. That's kind of a tough argument to make. Plus, if he broke into your whole house and only stole your sneakers, he's an idiot. Also, who says sneakers.

So I like to avoid learning things the hard way. That doesn't mean that I always manage to avoid it. I just like the idea. As in, I wanted to learn how to forgive as a magnanimous gesture, not a defensive one that I used to stave off the rigor mortis in my soul. However, I had my "eureka!" moment on forgiveness when I found myself withholding true forgiveness from someone and becoming a pretty vengeful little witch. This person had hurt me and been cavalier about my feelings, and I found myself stung inconsolably by the injustice of it all. I was treated unfairly, and they didn't seem to care. My solution was to toughen up; and somewhere along the line, I subconsciously decided that if they were allowed to not care, then I shouldn't have to care, either. If my feelings were mishandled, and remorselessly so, then I was justified in exacting justice as I saw fit by returning wrong for wrong. That would make me powerful! I may not have had the chance to retaliate in their direction, but by God I could make sure to steady myself for the next one. My wound justified my wounding of another.

Boom. Just like that, I became my trespasser. All because I loved the illusion of power more than anything else that laid claim to my affections.

Forgiveness, like actual love, is otherworldly. (That's how my mom describes it.) It really is. Nothing about the human economy of relational interaction takes forgiveness into account. Think of the priest in Les Miserables. That's the embodiment of forgiveness. It feels like tying your hands behind your back and asking your assailant to use you for target practice. But it isn't. It makes you more powerful- because you're strengthened against hatred and bitterness. That's the crazy secret. And because it's otherworldly, if I rely entirely upon myself to make this transaction possible, I'm destined for earthbound failure.

I kept thinking that forgiveness meant I say it, then like medicine, saying the words "I forgive you" would mean that I feel it. If not immediately, then within the next 24 hours. I've been reminded that forgiveness is a muscle, like it's otherworldly counterpart, love. You don't just start running a marathon without training. You train regularly, daily. And it becomes easier. You don't just say "I forgive you" and be done with it. You choose it every day. At least, that's my opinion. I hate saying this because now everyone knows that I hold lofty opinions about forgiveness. But that's just my fear talking, and fear is soooo 2013...

ode to boy: Joy To Girl

I wrote this as catharsis a few months ago... published now after a moratorium on writing about my life. A song eventually, but for now a poem.

Joy To Girl, Her Best Man.
     or : Loss, Part 1.

Come, you said
come, won't you let me come in
won't you
won't you see
won't you let me
won't you let me speak to you
so kindly and tenderly and
won't you
won't you let me
won't you

Come in, you said
won't you feel the water
won't you?
it is so wonderful and beautiful and
so clear and so safe so
I've been in before and I know
Come in, he said
I'll breathe for you
come in and let me breathe for you
I took it away but I
will fill your lungs again

So I did and I heard and I let you speak
And I followed you into the tide into the tide,
And I thought loves weight would be a tidal wave,
But water rose quick and my heart unbridled

Come out, you said
the road is clear
let's cross to the other side
I felt the rush of the passing cars and I
was afraid and I cried and you said
won't you trust me
won't you come out
come out, the road is clear
come out
won't you

So I did and I heard and I fell for you
And I followed you out and onto the road
And I believed that you had cleared the way
But blindness proved too great a load

Going, I'm drowning
Going, I'm stricken
Going, I'm done for
Gone, gone, I'm gone
Gone, gone, you're gone.

HM 2014