Friday, February 17, 2012

Oh, brother: Dec. 18, 2011

My kids are soul mates. It takes me apart, the way they love each other.

There is real power in brotherly love
    I recently shuffled through the living room on a Saturday morning to find my 6-year-old son sitting still and mute in the semi-dark.
    “Ben, what are you doing, honey?” I asked.
    “Waiting for Jack,” he answered.
    Jack is 11, and he has begun to realize the appeal of sleeping a little bit late. The days when both boys leapt early from bed each weekend to racket up the playroom stairs together are fading fast.
    But Ben is unperturbed. He knows Jack will be along. He’ll wait.
    A friend visited us from Oregon a few weeks ago. As we sat talking into the wee hours, we got around to discussing the boys. We talked about how dramatically different they are in everything from their physical types to their temperaments. They have nearly five years and a world of dissimilarities between them. And they are as genuinely close as any two people I’ve ever known.
    “Do they fight?” my friend asked.
    “Like animals,” I said. “But that’s the price of real intimacy, isn’t it? Conflict isn’t scary when you’re that close.”
    I had never really thought about it until that moment -- until I said it -- but my sons have taught me so much about love through their example.
    They love each other fearlessly, and they battle full-force, in a way that clearly assumes there is nothing that can’t be mended. One minute they’re glowering and grappling; an hour later they’re splitting a Coke and amiably comparing their Pokémon card collections.
    In my head, the unspoken subtext sounds like this: Yeah, I know I punched you in the stomach and you kicked a hole in my Lego tower, but it’s cool. You know I love you. I always will. Let’s watch a movie.
    There is never any question of where their loyalty lies. In a world run by grown-ups and governed by the capricious rules of playgrounds and childhood hierarchies, they make their own safe harbor.
    My mom recently told me that her father always said this: The enemy of love is not hate; the enemy of love is fear.
    The reason we were talking about my grandfather is that my mother still misses him, sometimes sharply. He’s been gone 20 years. He always called me Kelly, for no good reason, and it made me feel like I had a special identity that was just for him. I can still hear his voice, saying that name to me.
    It’s such scary stuff, love. To truly give yourself over to it is to understand that you’ll most certainly be hurt. You’ll probably be hurt a lot. You may even be hurt in a way that will always be with you.
    We’d be crazy not to be afraid. But we have to be brave. A guarded heart is a lonely place to live. And why else are we here if not to love each other, despite the inherent risk?
    That’s what I think about when I look at pictures of my sons, who reflexively embrace any time we point a camera at them. We never tell them to do it, but they always do.
    Their arms drape each other’s shoulders, their heads tilt close together. Like plants seeking light.

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