Sunday, February 10, 2008

Life lessons

After a crazy week at work and my mom being in the hospital down here at Mayo Clinic, I ended the week on an up-note. Saturday night was the night of our big Italian feast. We do it every year as a part of a fundraising event at our church - a service auction. The prep for this annual feast is a savory trip to our favorite Italian eatery and grocery store to get the best groceries we can - Cossetta's in St. Paul - a fabulous place!

I had to good fortune to use the opportunity to connect with my old friend Ahna and her family while there. Not to say she's old...nay...she's younger than I by a year or so, but looks at least 5-10 years younger. Yes, I'm jealous. I don't know how she can look so much younger than me, it's disgusting. Really. Yes, I'm jealous. BUT, it's a good jealous. You know the type - the kind of jealous where you're happy for them, and not mad at them!

I have one other secret jealousy that I must confess because its timely and on my mind, albeit a painful confession. Ahna has an amazing relationship with her brother. Their relationship is one of mutual respect and deep love. Of this I am profoundly envious, but as before, I am also profoundly happy for her. Some of you know of my non-existent relationship with my brother. It's been a difficult journey, one on which I’ve spent many hours pondering. The end result is that after my last run-in with him a couple years ago, I decided that I wanted no further relationship with him.

After years and years of his verbal abuse, I rejected his arrogant, self-righteous, condescending ways. I made the decision to have nothing further to do with him. It was a painful, yet obvious, choice. It was like a cancer that only I had the power to cure. But much like an amputee feels phantom pains, I still feel the pain of loss, the pain of my failure, and the pain of the lingering and unresolved anger toward him.

Like those phantom pains, they resurface every now and then, especially when I'm with a friend who can take such joyous pleasure in their sibling relationship. Introspectively I question why some of us can develop such deep bonds of love with our siblings, and yet others of us are doomed to failure.

It's a question I will probably never be able to answer, but an interesting string of events this weekend has helped me come to a closure, of sorts, that I didn't think I would experience. While my parents were here this last week they had me work on their laptop computer because it wasn't working well. I brought the laptop with me on the way to Cosetta's, and on the way out the door I asked my dad if I could delete some of their email (there was stuff in there from 2001!). With his permission, I was cleaning it out and happened upon an email from my brother to my parents with a subject line of "Julia's Travel Plans." Normally I wouldn't bother reading any of their emails, but I must confess that this one I did open and read.

What I read shocked me. The condescending tone that I thought was only reserved for my abuse, was right there in black and white, hurled through cyberspace right at my parents! I couldn't believe what I read, sadder yet, I couldn't believe how self-absorbed he was. As inflammatory as his note was, all I could feel was extreme sadness for his person and his spirit. This note was all about him and how he was wronged by me due to my selection of travel dates for our recent trip to Maui. I had absolutely no idea there was an issue, and yet there he was embarrassingly redressing and scolding his parents about how much it was going to cost him to attempt to reschedule his trip to Maui so as not to be on the island at the same time as me. Nothing he said was rooted in reality. It was frightening, really, to read it and realize how misguided and incorrect he truly was.

I cried. Not because the words hurt me, they didn't. He doesn't have that power over me any longer. I cried because I can't think of anything more pathetic. I was saddened at how superficial and hurtful this person I once deeply adored and loved had become.

Over the last decade I have done a lot of soul searching and growth, and my experiences with my brother are at the center of much of that growth. I know he was put in my life for me to learn from the challenges he presented. And I know I failed one of my life-lessons in that I was unable to repair my relationship with him. But from this struggle I have learned the value of relationships. I have learned to treasure those people in my life and treat them with dignity and respect. I strive for that everyday in my work life, in my personal life, in my church and community. I don't always succeed, but I always try! And as much as it's hard for me to say, I have my fractured relationship with my brother to thank for teaching me the value and fragility of our human relationships.

I have ruminated about this all weekend, and have also realized that I have failed my parents and must set it right. They never mentioned any of this to me, I'm sure to protect me. But in a heartbeat I would have stayed home and not gone to Maui if I had known the pain it would cause them for me to go. It's time for them to trust me to do the right thing and let me show them my love. I don't care about anything but my relationship with them. I don't care about their property or my inheritance, Ben can have it all. All I want is to love my parents and care for them in their last days as they cared for me in my first days on earth.

If my brother were reading this, he'd dismissively call me melodramatic. It would be his way of diminishing my introspection and my truth-seeking. I believe, however, that he is threatened by my honesty, my emotion, my quest for a more meaningful life and spiritual growth through honest self-assessment. That's ok, his antics bother me no more. I have a rich, full, and meaningful life.

So, to all of you out there who have fragile relationships - stop. Stop now and appreciate what you have. Appreciate those in your life who love you. And for those of you who already have what I have lost, revel and relish in it, and let me revel vicariously with you. Oh, and Ahna, hug that wonderful brother of yours for me on your journey to California this week and I'll feel it all the way back here in Rochester, and thank you for welcoming me into your life! I feel truly blessed by our friendship.


Angela WD said...

Ugh! I can complately sympathize with those fragile, unhealthy relationships. If you want a laugh, or at least a sigh of recognition, check out my similar experience on my blog:

I'm sorry your relationship with your brother is not the way it should be. Sounds like you're doing a healthy thing by keeping away from him.

Jon said...

Isn't it a shame when you finally realize that the people you always thought should be there for you never will be?

I have a brother that just refuses to have anything more than a casual relationship (with any family member). He rarely calls and when he does, he never even asks me how I'm doing. He hasn't visited me once in 14 years. There's no actual animosity between us, but it hurt enough that I finally decided to let it go and not to give his indifference power over my feelings.

Think of it this way - putting those people out of your mind, gives you more time to focus on the people in your life who really do matter...the ones who actually WANT to be a part of it.

Strange that our real "families" often turn out to be people that we are not even related to.

Nonna said...

Angela - thanks for the link to your site - I read it and posted a reply there.

Jon - you couldn't be more right on the money! I have one friend from high-school that I call my brother - he's more of a brother to me than my biological one ever will be. And, then of course I've been smart enough to add more close friends like you to my circle of "family" - I only wish you lived closer to us!

iguana banana said...

I feel so much as I read this post! I am so sad about and for your brother. He was always the reason that I wanted a big brother, but right now I want to just punch him!

As I re-read what you wrote, I just feel profound sadness for him. He must have so much fear and self-loathing (although, obviously not sensitive enough to recognize those emotions...) to treat those around him so terribly - wow!
What his daily life must be like...

Did your parents ever step in and try to help him change this behavior? Obviously, by not bringing up the Maui e-mail, they were trying to protect you. I'd really like to see what they wrote back to him. Did they ever reprimand him for his behavior as you were growing up? I am sad that they either don't see his nastiness any more, or they are OK with him treating them so poorly, too.

Your parents know that you love them. You certainly don't have to do anything to prove your love to them. They see you and the beautiful children you are raising and the wonderful relationships that you create and they are so proud. It's obvious how your mother feels about you - all anyone has to do is watch her around you. She beams!

As far as the relationships that you create, you are an amazing person. I have never in my entire life met someone who is so genuinely giving and caring and loving. I don't know anyone else who is as authentic as you. You laugh easily and honestly. I know that our friendship makes me feel special and important and safe in who I am - and that's because you are a great friend.
So if that rotten brother has helped you become the wonderful, kind, loving friend-wife-mother-daughter-woman you are ... we should all send him a note of thanks.
Wouldn't that blow his mind?!

Nonna said...

AB! You are spectacular! No wonder I love you so much - you always make me beam inside. You are part of my "chosen" family for a very good reason!