“I hope you like it,” I told my brother as I went to the back room to get his birthday gift. “Because I’m trying to force something on you.”
“It’s probably something Republican,” I heard our younger sister say as I walked to the spare bedroom of my dad’s house. Forcing politics on him was the last thing on my mind, though. At least partisan politics.
What I was hoping to do, however, was to get my recently-turned 30-year-old brother back to reading and thinking after a few years out of college. Like most adults, becoming a husband, father, and career man left Nick little time for much reading at all, not to mention thinking about the issues of the day.
When we had talked about it a few weeks ago at our sister’s wedding, I suggested he could even just subscribe to a magazine about current events, just read an article or two a week. After a college career of political science, and a curious mind that liked debate and philosophy, I knew if he just started back down that road he would find a niche again.
At the time, he had agreed. But I wasn’t sure if he meant it. So, taking a chance, I got him a copy of the November Atlantic Monthly for his birthday, with the promise of a year’s subscription if he likes it.
“I think it’s actually kind of liberal,” I said, smiling as I came back in the room. They didn’t realize I had heard the Republican comment.
“Oh, and by the way,” I said as I handed him the magazine. “I’d like to borrow it when you’re done.”
The conversation about reading and thinking had been interrupted that night by the minister’s invitation to pray before the meal. We had been rehearsing for my sister’s wedding, and we were now all spread across the banquet room of the local National Guard Armory. My future in-laws had catered the meal themselves.
I bowed my head to pray, sitting next to my brother who doesn’t pray much. At least that I know about.
As the minister neared the “Amen,” he said, “Thank you God for these friends we are gathered with.” I felt myself nodding in agreement, until I realized that not one person there was my friend. They were all just family, or future family. And for those kind of folks – kin folks – the minister was silent.
When we looked up and around after the blessing, I looked straight at my brother.
“Do you think we’d be friends if we weren’t related?” I asked, dead serious.
“Probably not,” he said, meaning it.
“You’re probably right,” I said. “You’d think I was a prude.”
“And you’d think I was a jack ass,” he said.
We both laughed. No, we probably wouldn’t be friends if we weren’t siblings, we both agreed.
“But we might,” I decided, wanting to defend the relationship we have worked hard on over the years. He, an agnostic, liberal, who drinks beer on the weekends and tells crude jokes, and me, a conservative, Christian who drinks lattes and attends Bible studies. We’ve worked hard to stay close, each being open minded toward the other, each knowing when to just be quiet.
One year for Christmas I bought him Barack Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope. Recently, he told me that if he had it to do all over again, he’d skip political science and become an evangelical preacher. “There’s a lot of money in that,” he told me, though the doctrine, the liturgy, and the clean living might be small hang ups for him.
Though our opinions differ, we often talk about labor law and immigration, big business and the environment. We swap work stories about office politics and corporate head aches. And we really love talking about his 2-year-old son and his beautiful new wife.
We’re family. But we’d also probably be friends, I think.
Nick agreed. “Yeah, I think you’re right, sis,” he said, leaning back in his metal folding chair at the Armory. “I think we would be friends.”
“But where would we meet?” I asked, laughing.
If a fish and a bird decided to be friends . . . you know the rest.
Before I ever handed my brother his Atlantic Monthly magazine for his birthday, and before he had gone shopping for scarves to give me for mine, we had already agreed we weren’t giving each other birthday gifts.
Some years, the option hadn’t even been on the table. There have been seasons when we didn’t see each other for months at a time, and a gift exchange at Christmas for our fall birthdays just seemed silly.
But this year, especially the past few months, we’ve all been getting together more, usually around the table at my dad’s house. It was at that table just a few weeks before, after Nick’s birthday had already passed, that we made the agreement about the gifts.
That very day, when we all sat around eating grilled cheese sandwiches and playing with the kids, I realized that these times together had become essential in some way, that we were all adults and choosing to be together now, kind of like friends.
When I presented the idea to my dad that we have a “fall birthdays” gathering so we could all be together again, I knew then that I would be buying gifts for everyone, even though no one expected it. I had to keep up the charade somehow.
As I was leaving, I hugged Nick tight, thanking him for the scarves. He thanked me for the magazine. “This Fall Birthdays idea was really just a way to get us all together again,” I said in his ear, confessing. Something about Nick makes me always want to tell the truth.
“I know,” he said, hugging me back. “And I like it.”
Photo by M01229, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.