Even the after work hours have been taken over by the post-vacation backlash of trying to catch up on everything you didn't get done before you left on top of everything that accrued while you were off splashing in the surf. The real world seems to wait for you, ready to pounce, the way Hobbes would wait for Calvin after school.
Last night, I had a dream that we were all still back at the beach house, and when I woke up, I laid there thinking how long ago it seems already. I grabbed my phone and looked through the pictures again while Sam snored cheerfully beside me. I have too many pictures of my own children and not nearly enough of everyone else, I decided.
I've been thinking all week about how we would stay up late and talk after the kids were in bed and the dishes done. We never moved to the couches, just stayed perched at the high dining room table and pulled out all the old stories from childhood we always unearth when we're together. In many ways, it's the same thing we've done every time we've gotten together as adults, and yet somehow this year, it felt different. It felt more honest, less forced.
We're all thirty-somethings now, my brothers and I, which means we've now had just as many years of adulthood as years of childhood (at least that we can remember). We all married pretty young, and our spouses have been part of the family for 13 to 15 years at this point. Until this year, when we got together, we seemed to live in the nostalgia of our shared childhood. But this year, we couldn't avoid the fact that we've lived as many separate adult years as we did shared childhood years. Before, when we got together, we didn't really talk about our lives now. We talked about our lives back then, the piece that bound us together, the memories we shared. This year, though, we talked freely about the identities we have outside of that childhood.
I remember one night looking around at my brothers and thinking about the incredible grace inherent in loving a sibling. Every idiotic thing you've ever done has been witnessed by these people. They lived through my obsessive Amy Grant phase, my puffy, permed hair phase, my singing into a hairbrush phase (still in this one, for the record). They watched my teenage confusion-slash-meltdown-slash-awakening. They watched a fiance dump me and send me running home heartbroken, dropping my college education and falling into a black clothes phase that had my mom worrying that I was one of those goth kids.
And there's more, of course, more that doesn't suit the publicity of the internet. More that we've all experienced, lived through, done to each other. We've seen each other's true selves just as clearly as our parents have seen them. But, though parents are programmed to keep loving their children through mistake after mistake, siblings can all too easily be cast off, relegated to that brother or sister who was beyond reach, beyond rescue, beyond reason.
How thankful I am that, though I don't see them often, my brothers and I have always kept faith in each other. We don't agree on much, we don't have shared adult lives as we all live halfway across the country from each other, and we don't talk on the phone like we should. But when we're together, there is an uncomplicated current of love between us. In many ways, they are the most simple and straightforward relationships of my life. I love you and support you and celebrate your success. Period.
I've been listening to this Brandi Carlile song, "That Wasn't Me." In it, she says:
"To be wrong all along and admit it
Is not amazing grace,
But to be loved like a song you remember
Even when you've changed."
I think this song is about going to the brink and making it back again, about facing your family after hitting bottom and promising that you are more than the mistakes you've made. I think it's about looking your siblings in the eye and knowing they will see you not as the broken creature at its lowest point but as the child they remember and the adult you have become and every moment in between.
And I think, to the limit humans are able to show it to each other, that is exactly what it looks like to experience amazing grace. It is not a sweeping under the rug; it is a person looking at you with all your lifetime of faults and choosing to love you anyway. It has none of the fireworks of romantic love, none of the thrilling novelty of parental love. A functional, supportive sibling relationship is a completely boring series of events built on choosing forgiveness, faith, and love over ego, convenience, and personal gratification.
To my brothers, I can only say that I love you both. You are both incredible men whose strength humbles me. I have loved watching you grow into husbands and fathers. And I can't wait for the next time we can stay up late and dredge up each other's most embarrassing moments.