Thursday, May 19, 2011

For my brother on his wedding day

    It's a little strange, as a sophomore in college, to visit your mother in the hospital after she's just had a baby.  Not that I wasn't prepared.  I hardly had known a time when my mother wasn't either "with child" or with an infant.  For the most part it didn't effect me in any way.  Sure, as the oldest, I got stuck watching the rest of my siblings a lot.  I liked them though, and I was old enough that they still thought I was cool (at least the younger ones did).  There were the occasional moments of utter humiliation like the time the lady at the check-out counter assumed I was the father and told my mom and me that we had beautiful children.  For the most part though, I always liked being the oldest of 10 kids and especially enjoyeded the littlest ones.  The babies were kind of like my own children in a way.  I didn't have to raise or pay for them, I wasn't responsible for their well-being, but I had a special bond with them that was some sort of complex amalgamation of sibling and parental.  When the youngest, Mark, was born, I truly was old enough to be his dad.  That was a little strange for me.  I never really had much of a relationship with Mark, not like I did with my other siblings.  I was off away starting my own life, doing the whole teaching thing, then the med school and residency thing.  I watched my siblings grow for the next decade in through a strobe light.  There were momentary flashes of time I would spend with them and then they would disappear in darkness as I got lost in my own world of worries and care.  Over the years those flashes of their lives were somehow stitched together into a time-lapse film.  Just like those movies of seeds sprouting and growing into plants sped up a thousand times, my brothers and sisters grew up abnormally fast, or so it seemed to me.

     Time is a strange sort of magic that works on our minds in mysterious ways.  For me, my personality must have solidified in my early twenties because that is where time stopped moving in regard to how I view myself.  When I dream, I am still twenty.  I am sometimes shocked to look in the mirror, because I don't recognize the man staring back at me.  He is middle aged and overweight, with greying hair and beginning to wrinkle around the edges. I have a hard time believing that this is who I am now.  I certainly couldn't have changed that much in such a short span of years. In the same way, in my memory, my family was frozen forever in time when I left them to make my own way in the world.  They linger on that way to this day.  It's like when you stare too long at an image an then it lingers in negative when you look away or even close your eyes.  I still expect to pull up to my parents house and see them all come piling out climbing on me asking me to play with them.  But now they are grown, and it is my children running to me.   The shouts of "Bill's home!" have changed to "Daddy's home!" Sometimes I get lost in time and memories from 20 years ago merge with the here and now.  In those moments I get some kind of chronologic vertigo and it makes me feel like the time-space continuum is all off kilter.  Other times I am going about my daily routine, talking with my children, and find myself getting stared at because I have called them by the name of one of their uncles.

     I often feel like I'm raising my second family.  I've tried to explain this to Karlye, but she just can't grasp what I mean.  Everything about my family life is tinted a sense of deja vu.  It has gotten especially noticeable as my own children have reached the ages my memory tells me that my siblings are still supposed to be.  What scares me is how fast my "first family" turned from toddlers to adults.  My babies will be gone forever far sooner than seems possible from inside the noise and hustle and scurry that we are caught up in right now.  Part of me longs to see them grown and on their own, safe and secure without my having damaged them too much. Part of me wants to hold them tight and make them stop growing, because I can't think of anything that could ever replace the joy that they bring to my life.  Generally the part that wins out depends a lot on what we are having for dinner and how much of a fight it is to get them to eat it.

     I have a theory about perception of time.  The speed of time is relative to how much of it we have experienced.  When you are 4 it takes forever to get from one Christmas to the next.  That's because your talking a span that's 25% of the time you have lived and can comprehend.  Four years of high school seemed never ending for the same reason.  At 40 that same 25% is a decade.  How odd it seems to me that I no longer think in years but decades.  If the time from age 20 to 40 went so quickly, 40-60 can only seem faster.  I'm just hypothesizing, but if there is someone who is 60, or 70, or 80, could you let me know if I am correct in this line of thinking?

     My baby brother Mark is getting married this weekend.  That's what has me musing about this stuff in the first place.  It doesn't seem possible to me that he is old enough or that I am old enough to see him get married.  I wonder how my parents feel.  Are they sad to see their baby all grown up?  Are they relieved to be done?  Are they still haunted, as I am, of memories from 20 or 40 years ago that seem but a moment past?  I won't have to wonder long because as impossible as it seems my children will all too soon be leaving us to start their own lives.

     Perhaps because of my fairly unique perspective I am getting a premature dose of empty nest syndrome even though my nest is quite full at the moment.  I think that maybe I am a bit schizophrenic in that there are two versions of myself.  One resides in my mind as the ideal of what I was when I first stepped out into adulthood.  The other exists in reality and has been weathered a bit by the experiences of life.

     When I look at Mark I see myself as I was 20 years ago.  Young, confident, certain with an infinite number of possibilities before me.  I realize that I am no longer that person.  I chose a path and I am working my way down it.  I don't regret the path I chose.  My wife, my children, my career are wonderful blessings that God has given me along the journey.  There are certainly choices I have made along the way that I regret, but I never have doubted that I am on the road God intended for me.  Still, looking at my brother, there are twinges of nostalgia for that moment in life at the start of the journey, brimming with expectation.

     In light of the upcoming nuptials,  I have been thinking what I would tell my younger self, if I had the ability to travel back through time.  What advice would I give myself?  Not being able to do that, maybe I can instead give some insight to my youngest brother.

     So Mark, as you begin your new life with your bride, know that I will be praying for you.  Hold fast to your beliefs because they will be tested.  Sometimes your faith will be tested by trials and other times by the monotony of the daily grind.  Fix your eyes on God and never take them off of Him. Right now you see marriage as a culmination of your hopes and dreams and a completion of yourself as a person.  You will soon come to find that it is just the start of a long journey that will shape and mold you.  It takes hard work, more than you can even imagine.  Hang tight to your wife so that you ride out the storms of life together as a team instead of as two individuals.  Be a man of character, because character matters.  Life is humbling.  It teaches you just how little you know and how little control you have.  I don't doubt for a moment that you will succeed, but nothing in life comes easy.  Work hard but always enjoy life.  Learn to relax without compromising what you believe.  It is the trials that make you grow and harden your faith.  It is the quiet times of calm and peace that cause you to to let down your guard and become complacent.  Never be afraid to admit when you are wrong and stand resolute when you know you are right.  Listen more than you speak. Resolve to live each day in a manner that you have nothing to be ashamed of.  Live out Philippians 3. 
     Time changes everything, mostly for the better.  It is a tremendous equalizer.  Now more than ever we have an opportunity to get to know each other as we never have had before.  Each year that passes will give us more in common.  Twenty years from now I hope we will be more than brothers.  I hope we will have a true friendship such as never has been possible before.  I don't have much to offer you in the way of amazing advice, but I do have a twenty year head start on you and if you ever want to bounce an idea off someone, I'll always be available to listen and tell you what I've learned.
     Good luck.  I'm proud of the man you have become.  I look forward to seeing what God will do with your life.