Three Weeks With My Brother - novelonlinefull.com
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On our last night in Tromso, we had a farewell dinner. It was an early night. We would be departing first thing in the morning, and because of a two-hour layover in England, the flight home would take nearly fifteen hours. The atmosphere on the plane varied from boisterous to quiet. People mingled in the aisles, continuing to exchange phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Micah and I said our good-byes as well; once we landed and got through customs, everyone would head off in different directions to catch their final flights back home.
Later, while Micah was napping, I gazed out the window, watching the clouds pa.s.s beneath us.
I wasn't sure how I felt. Part of me was sad that our adventure had come to an end; another part was thrilled at the thought of seeing my wife and kids. Cat and I have loved each other since the third week of March 1988, and my feelings for her have grown only stronger over the years.
How could they not? We were married only six weeks when catastrophe first struck, and she was the one who held me on those first few terrible nights, when everything always seemed hardest.
And she's never stopped holding me since. As hard as it's been, as heartbreaking as it's been, I know that in many ways I've been fortunate. My wife and children are proof of that. And even now, when I pray at night, I find myself thanking G.o.d for all the blessings in my life.
At heart, I suppose, I'm an optimist like my mom was. Granted, an optimist who sometimes worries too much or works too hard, but an optimist nonetheless. In those moments when I feel sad about the loss of my parents and my sister, I've found that if I look closely at my children, I see hints of my own past. In my family growing up, there were five of us; three males and two females. Among my kids, those numbers are exactly the same, and I've come to realize that as the echoes of my own family's voices gradually dim over time, they've been replaced by the excited sounds of happy childhood. As they say, the circle of life continues.
The lessons my parents taught are still with me. I keep a tighter leash when raising my kids than my parents did, but I often find myself doing or saying the same things they did. My mom, for instance, was always cheerful when coming in from work; I try to behave the same way when I finish writing for the day. My dad would listen intently when I came to him with a problem, to help me find a way to solve it on my own; I try to do the same with my own kids. At night, while I'm tucking my kids in bed, I ask them to tell me three nice things that each of their siblings did for them that day, in the hopes that it will help them grow as close as Micah, Dana, and I did.
And more frequently than I ever would have imagined possible growing up, I find myself telling my children It's your life, or No one ever promised that life would be fair, and What you want and what you get are usually two entirely different things. And after I say these words, I turn away and try to hide my smile, wondering what my parents would think about that.
When my thoughts turn to Dana, though, it's not easy. Her death sent me into a tailspin of sorts, one that took years from which to recover. She was too young, too sweet, too much a part of me for me to accept that she's gone. Yet my sister taught me well. Alone among the family, my sister never let her illness get her down, and I've tried to learn from her example. She lived her life fully despite her fears; she laughed and smiled until the very end. My sister, you see, had always been the strongest among us all.
"What are you thinking about?" Micah asked. Waking from his nap, he stretched in his seat.
"Everything," I said. "The trip. Our family. Cat and the kids."
"Did you think about work?"
I shook my head. "Actually, I didn't."
"But you'll plunge back in as soon as you get home, right?"
"I don't think so. I think I need to spend time with the family first."
Micah nudged me. "I think you're getting better," he said. "You look better. You're not nearly as glum as when you started. You actually look ... relaxed."
"I am," I said. "But how about you? Are you doing any better?"
"I don't know what you're talking about. I never had any problems to begin with."
I snorted. "Must be nice being you."
"Oh, it is. Christine is one lucky lady to have a guy like me around."
I laughed. "So what's on your agenda when you get home?"
"Oh, the usual. See the wife, see the kids." He shrugged and let out a long breath. "And I'm sure Christine will want to go to church tomorrow, so I guess I'll have to go." I raised my eyebrows but said nothing.
"What?" he asked.
I shook my head, unable to hide the smirk. "I didn't say anything."
"Listen, I'm not going to church because of anything I learned on the trip. Or anything you told me. You're not that wise, little brother."
"Oh, I know."
"Don't look at me like that."
"With that face. It wasn't like I completely stopped going to church. I still went every now and then. I'm just going to go because I think it's good for the kids to see me there. It teaches them the right kind of lessons-that you're part of G.o.d's plan. Mom did it for us, and look how we turned out."
"Mmmm," I said, nodding, continuing to smile.
"Yeah," I said smugly. "I know."
People often ask my brother and me how we continued to function-even flourish, by most standards-in the face of so much tragedy in our lives. I can't answer that question, except to say that neither Micah nor I ever considered the alternative. We'd been raised to survive, to meet challenges, and to chase our dreams.
We made the best of our lives because we had to. Because we wanted to. We had families of our own, families that needed us, and we couldn't let them down. But in the end, both Micah and I also survived and succeeded for each other. I needed Micah's support as much as he needed mine; Micah chased his dreams because I did, and vice versa. And it wouldn't have been fair of either of us to have to worry about each other. There was too much else going on.
We didn't escape unscathed. Who could? Our sister's death hit us hard-not just her death, but all of the deaths, one after the next. Even now, any elation we feel at reaching a goal or overcoming a challenge is tempered by the knowledge that, aside from each other, our family won't be around to share in our joy. Even worse, our children will never know their grandparents or their aunt, and that, to us, is heartbreaking.
But still, we have each other. People ask me why my brother and I are so close. The reason is simple; it's the way it should be. The loss of our family alone didn't drive us together; we were always close, even as children. We keep in touch, not because we have to, but because we want to. And we don't only love each other, but like each other as well. My brother and I haven't had an argument-or even a disagreement-since we were little kids. He is, along with my wife, my best friend in the world. And, if you asked him, he would say the same thing about me.
My parents may have been crazy, but whatever they did, it worked.
We landed in Dulles, and made our way through customs. Micah and I, like everyone else, would be going in different directions. We strolled through the terminal, weaving through weekend crowds, until we finally reached the point where our paths were forced to diverge.
We faced each other to say good-bye, and when I looked up at Micah, the first thought to go through my mind was that I might never see him again.
It's a sad thought, of course, but honest. It had happened to both of us three times before. It's what I always think when I say good-bye to my brother.
"I had a great time," I said. "Like you promised, it was the trip of a lifetime."
"It was the best," he said. He set his suitcase down and smiled. "I'll give you a call when I get back home."
He opened his arms and I went into them. And for a long moment, my brother and I held each other in the terminal, oblivious to the crowd weaving around us.
"I love you, little brother," he whispered. I squeezed my eyes shut.
"I love you, too, Micah."