Unlike most of the essays I write, I do not have much of this composed in my mind beforehand. Generally my “process” is to think an essay through, over a bit of time, and then sit down and try to write it. That is not the case, here. There will, no doubt, be re-writing and revision before it is publicly “presented,” but it’s (for now) a sui generis piece of work. It’s occasioned by this Saturday, July 21st, being my brother’s birthday (a day he shares with Ernest Hemingway, another, though less, significant person in my life). I want to write this because I’m not sure I’ve expressed enough (to him and others) his importance to me.
Since I was three years old, my brother has been a constant, unique presence in my life. I cannot stress that enough. Even though we have seldom lived near each other in the past 30 or 40 years, there isn’t a day that goes by that he is not in my thoughts at some point. Several years ago John had serious surgery --- miraculous surgery, actually, in which a surgeon removed part of one of his lungs and then had to go back in to make sure he was sewed back together properly! It was the first time in my life that I actually had to consider a world in which my brother would not be around. It was a staggering and debilitating thought!
My brother John is the kindest, most generous person I know. He is the ultimate “giver,” a selfless, caring person who is always (it seems) helping others. (He might deny this but it’s true.) I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be to be my younger brother. I was a neurotic, intense perfectionist as a child/boy, my brother showed nothing but support. He had to grow up having coaches call him by my name at times, and stupid people ask if he was going to go to Harvard (because I had gone to Yale) and he seamlessly shrugged off inanities with a graceful smile. I have often been concerned that he has sold himself short --- regarding his clear and impressive talent as a guitarist and painter --- and only seemed to accept compliments (about his work) after he became a brilliant and “difference-making” teacher.
Because he has lived near our parents (because they couldn’t be far away from his children!) he has also shouldered enormous burdens (he’ll deny this, too!) over the years, dealing with the stresses that come with living as long as we all have (Dad passed away in 2000 but Mom is going strong at 91). In his typical, low-key manner, he simply does what needs to be done, gets things done (doctors appointments, prescriptions, etc) and never complains.
My brother and I have been “best friends” since childhood --- despite my sometimes impossibly imperious behavior. We learned everything about sports together (he’s also a very good athlete --- another thing he’ll give short shrift to) as well as music and literature. I got a head start on college and teaching but, once he decided to pursue those things, he was summa cum laude and a formidable presence in the classroom (things you’d never find out from him). From early on, we’ve had few “fights” and there’s never been a long period of “estrangement” (if it could even be labeled that). He’s always been there for me and, I hope, he feels that way, too (though I don’t think I’ve been nearly as good).
So, this is simply a note --- one that I want to make “public” --- because its 66 years of birthdays and I want to make sure I put down, as clearly as I can, how much my brother has meant to me over all those years and how much I love him.
Happy Birthday, JJ. You’re the best!