In Praise of Siblings
This last weekend, my brothers and sister and I were all together in the same place for the first time in eight years. There’s no story of estrangement or dislike; the culprits are geography and conflicting commitments. We spend time with each other in subsets, and we all email and talk by phone. But this summer we finally got our schedules to align, and decided to convene in upstate New York.
So, at long last, there we were on a warm Thursday night at my younger brother and his wife’s wonderfully cozy and bohemian country house: my brothers and their spouses, my sister, my husband and I. Chatting, laughing, eating killer guacamole and drinking martinis and/or my husband’s excellent craft beer before dinner.
And I thought: siblings are the only people who know you for your whole life. Your children don’t come into your life till you’re an adult, and – childhood sweethearts aside – neither does your spouse (or spouses). Your parents, sadly, leave your life partway through. Most friends come and go. But siblings are with you from your earliest days. They’re there as you go through all your growing pains and come into full adulthood. They empathize with your difficulties and celebrate your triumphs and joys. And, generally, they’re with you pretty much until you shuffle off this mortal coil.
I’ve always felt fortunate to like and respect each of my siblings. And yet in earlier years I noticed the dark side of this life-long knowing: we used to limit each other, in our expectations and interactions, to the roles we played in the family growing up. Caretaker, optimist, black sheep, iconoclast.
Now, though, all of that has softened and thinned out – and this weekend really demonstrated that to me. We’ve been through a lot; we’ve seen each other at our best and our worst; we’ve grown and changed. As I saw and talked with my family this weekend, it seemed we’ve come to a place of almost pure appreciation. Certainly we rub each other the wrong way at times, and we don’t agree on everything (although there is remarkable consonance on core values) – but that’s superficial. At the heart of what I felt this weekend, from each of us and for all of us, was gratitude.
We’re happy to love each other. We’re proud of each other. We appreciate very much that we’re all still alive, and happy. We embrace each other’s spouses and children and – now – grandchildren. We’re each interested in sharing and finding out how the others are navigating the questions of aging: where to live, how to be active, what to do about work, how to stay as healthy and vital as possible. And most of all we enjoy each others’ company.
We had fun saying “Remember when we…” and knowing that we four are the only people on earth who could now finish that sentence and a thousand others like it. We shared little tidbits from our parents’ and grandparents’ lives that one of us knew and the others picked up eagerly, bright gems of family lore to store away. We lamented the fact that we hadn’t asked our parents some important questions – and wondered how to pass along to our children and their children the rich history of our family. Being with people who have known and cared about you your whole life is an experience unlike any other.
And now, in this final third of our lives, most of what used to make that deep knowing irritating or awkward seems to have faded away; we’re simply glad to be here with each other. I love you guys; I know you love me, too.