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Six Lessons My Brother Taught Me

For Todd, on National Siblings Day

1. Sometimes you have to leave home to find home.

After my brother Todd, three years my senior, finished college in Georgia, he lived and worked in Athens–arguably one of the best places in a largely conservative state for an intelligent, unconventional, creative-minded twenty-something. After a few years doing quality-control testing in a lab, he decided to take a leap into the unknown: he and one of his best friends moved out west to seek their fortunes.  They visited with our paternal grandmother and family in Texas for a spell, then headed to New Mexico, where they lived with my maternal grandmother, looked for work, and took up rock-climbing. Todd was drawn to the subtle beauty of  the desert, the broad open spaces of the mesa. He felt at home in the west, and it was there he eventually fell in love, got a second degree, found rewarding work, and began raising a family.

Taking me climbing, 1994

Taking me climbing, 1994

Both of us, I think, always felt our southern hometown, though lovely in many ways, was a poor fit, a size too small. And when I found myself in Georgia in my mid-thirties, in need of a fresh start, it was in part my big brother’s example of striking out on his own that emboldened me to sell my house, leave everything I knew, and move to Virginia. It’s probably the single most important choice I made that helped me find my path and figure out my own priorities.

2. “Parent” and “spouse” are roles, not identities—and we play those roles best when we let our essential selves shine through.

Todd with Natasha, 1994

Todd with Natasha, 1994

My niece Natasha was born in August, the same weekend I was loading a moving van to head to Ohio for graduate school.  I didn’t get to meet her until December, when first we gathered, unexpectedly, in Texas for my grandmother’s funeral, then a few weeks later in New Mexico for Christmas. I didn’t realize until I saw Todd with her that for some reason I’d expected him, now that he was a father himself, to have magically morphed into our dad: clean-cut and clean-shaven, sporting khakis and button-downs and suit jackets on Sundays, reserved in demeanor and measured in opinion. Instead, I was surprised to find my brother still very much himself, mischievous sense of humor intact along with his long hair, beard, and preferred wardrobe of jeans, tees, and flannel shirts. He was still forthright and outspoken, unpersuaded by institutionalized religion, and exuberantly excited about Christmas, as he’d always been. He was also clearly besotted with and amazed by this exquisite creature, his newborn daughter. Continue reading