The hottest part of the year always reminds me that nights will soon turn cold, here in the mountains. Seventeen years ago, during that time of year, I had no idea I would come look at those contrasts as a metaphor for family reconciliation. At that time I was living in Michigan and my younger brother lived sixteen hundred miles away. He called in early August to wish me a happy birthday.
There was no phone call in April, on his birthday. I hadn’t bothered. It wasn’t a one-way street. Communication between the two of us had been pretty limited for several years. We didn’t hate each other. There just wasn’t as much in common as there once was. In truth, our choices in friends, acquaintances, and family continuance had clashed. Rod and I got along just fine at occasional family functions or when my brothers arranged for an activity for all of us. Well, we got along fine if we didn’t talk about family, beyond our shared family. That was good enough. Neither of us thought we were really “distant.” There was no need for family reconciliation.
During the last several years before I moved to Michigan, Rod and I saw each other three or four times a year. The physical distance brought on by living so far apart made the relationship distance even more comfortable and ignorable. We went two years with very little contact. I saw no need for a family reconciliation and had it relied on me, I don’t think it ever would have happened. Of course I had been raised better than that, but I turned my head to the problem, anyway.
In early August, 1997, my wife answered the phone. She talked for a few minutes before telling me that Rod wanted to wish me a happy birthday, while smiling and handing me the phone. Amy always did like Rod. I think she hoped that the call would lead to family reconciliation, but she had to know it wasn’t likely. She knew I would never apologize for my part in the distance between my brother and me. She had to have suspected that Rod might be the same way.
It was enough that both of us knew that we should be closer if only because we were family. Sometimes, that’s all the foundation it takes to build family reconciliation.
It turns out that it didn’t matter. Respect proved to be enough. Rod and I knew the subjects that brought turmoil and we simply left them alone. Then we talked. We talked about old times and the childhood home and family we grew up in. We recounted funny stories. We made plans to get together. We talked. There were several keys to the success of the family reconciliation between my brother and me. Neither of us required the other to see things in the same light that we did. Neither of us expected apologies (which is good, because none were offered). It was enough that we were family and that we had so much in common, regardless of the differences that had grown, over years. It was enough that both of us knew that we should be closer if only because we were family. Sometimes, that’s all the foundation it takes to build family reconciliation.
Rod and I didn’t call our conversation family reconciliation. We didn’t talk like that. Each of us decided on our own, during that telephone conversation, that we should be friends. All of that happened because someone stronger and better than me was able to take the first step and make himself vulnerable. He was taking a risk. There was a real possibility, from his prospective, that I would have rejected him if he didn’t submit to my position and opinions. Thank God he put himself out there. Thank God he took that risk.
A month later, I was in Phoenix, on business. It was late when I checked into the hotel and received the message to call my wife, at any hour. I knew that such a message could precede no good news. During the call my wife told me that Rod had died as a result of a work accident earlier that day.
Because my brother gave me that gift of family reconciliation, I didn’t need to wonder if he left this life believing that I didn’t care about him. And because of that single call, I knew how he felt about me. I’ll always remember the last words I ever heard my brother speak: “I love you, man.”
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