Family/CommunicationReflectionJuly 23, 20180In Praise of Siblings

I'm so glad to be a member of my family.

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.

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