This Kind of Sibling Love

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Whether we look for Biblical roots or just at those around us, it is not hard to find stories of those who have difficult, strained or even nonexistent relationships with their siblings.  From Cain and Abel to Joseph and his brothers, sharing the same parents and being connected in a nuclear family makes the sibling relationship both unique and uniquely complex.
My mother had six sisters and a brother and I grew up knowing that my mom would speak to at least one of her siblings on the phone every day. I knew that we would spend an afternoon each weekend at my grandmother’s and that, while we played with our many cousins, all of our moms and aunts (my mother would have called them “the girls”) would be in the kitchen, drinking tea in flowered glasses and eating a light snack, more often than not Saltine crackers topped with a little jelly. 
It’s a model of sibling connection, of family bonds that is as much a part of me, and truly all of my cousins, as breathing. Even today, scattered all over the country, we come together and begin our conversations “in the middle,” with the understanding that comes from long and close acquaintance and knowledge.
Norm and I were 18 months apart, often each other’s playmates and always each other’s allies. We could get into trouble, which I usually started, yet I never remember us being angry with the other except in minor childish ways. Once, I persuaded my brother that he could climb down an evergreen tree from his second floor window to the flower bed below. Half way down this less than pleasant climb, he got stuck and cried for help. I had, of course, gone on to play at the neighbor’s and the kindly woman across the street came over and rescued him. 
On another memorable occasion, we had walked to school in the morning. Norm was in kindergarten and I in second grade. Part of our walk was along a paved path that ran from the street to the school, which was set far back from the road. There was a chain link fence dividing the school path from a farmer’s field and the farmer was burning off the corn husks, clearing his field before winter. 
Unbeknownst to any of us, and certainly to me, Norm was fascinated by the fire. He came home and managed to find a lighter, experimenting with this new phenomenon with paper in his bedroom. We all were downstairs, smelled smoke and ran up to find the carpet in his room ablaze with, thankfully, a very small flame. My dad put it out, removed the area rug that had been burning and was, as you can imagine, both terrified and furious. 
He moved towards Norm, spanking clearly in the offing. And I stepped in front of him, scared enough by the whole scene to be in tears but still wanting to keep Norm from the punishment that awaited. My dad, diverted perhaps by my tears or my passionate defense of “Don’t Daddy, don’t” stopped and let it go with a strong lecture and tears of his own. 
I realize more and more how very fortunate I was to have that relationship with my only sibling. I see the opposite situation so often with those who say they have a sibling but that they have “never been close” or that they have “nothing in common.” While we are all different people with different beliefs and relationships and feelings, I think that you are missing something when you don’t have that kind of sibling bond. It is a unique understanding of shared history that, in truth, can never be replicated. No one else knows and owns that history. No one else has experienced the family environment that you and your sibling did. No one else can fill in those pieces of “do you remember when?”
Next week is my brother’s birthday. It is the 16th one that we will mark without him, the 16th time that I will wish him a happy birthday only in my heart. He is frozen in time, no aging for him, no image other than the young and vital man he was on the day that he died. It is the 16th birthday when I will recount all the things that he has missed—births and deaths, weddings and funerals, joy and the inevitable sorrow. I still think of all the stories I would share with him, I still wish every day that I could pick up the phone and hear the “Hey honey” rumble of his greeting to me. What I would not give for one more day, one more conversation, one chance to tell him how much I love him and how desperately I miss him.
We are not our brother’s keepers. There is no obligation in our faith to love, protect or even tolerate our siblings. Yet for those of us who have known this kind of sibling love, who value both that and family, how important it is to keep those connections strong, to overlook—if you can—the things that pull you apart and value the things that pull you together.
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