Though my sons were once literally attached to me and will be so figuratively always, the strongest bond in our house is between the two of them.
But now, without a doubt, they are brothers. They have their own games, jokes, songs and habits. At least 70 percent of what they do in a given day only makes sense to the two of them. They make each other laugh, they make each other cry, they make each other crazy.
There is an ebb and flow to their roles that occurs with remarkable ease. Evan is the student when Kostyn is the teacher. Kostyn is Robin when Evan is Batman. When one is afraid, the other soothes. And when one isn’t afraid, the other scares the bejeezus out of him just because it’s fun.
To the outside world, it looks like they’re playing robots (or superheroes, or Angry Birds, or a noisy amalgamation of all three). But there’s a lot more going on under the surface. Moment to moment, bike race to bath time, each boy is becoming who he was meant to be, thanks in part to his brother’s prodding, giggling and defending. Without realizing it, they are making each other stronger, healthier, smarter and happier than either of them would be alone. Love, devotion, friendship, empathy, compassion, competition, faith, forgiveness — so many basic elements of a life well-lived are being polished within each of them by a single entity: their brother.
It’s a big job, when you think about it, which they don’t. But I do. I think about it a lot, mostly because in the past year or two, more than any time before, I have realized what a significant, subtle and lasting impact my sisters have had on my life.
I am lucky and blessed for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest is that I was given two angels to walk beside me on Earth. They are my sisters — one older, one younger. They love me with an unknown depth and an unspoken bond that no one can match.
They were there for the genesis of just about every personality quirk and insecurity I have. They know my weaknesses and how to exploit them, which they’d never do because they can actually stare my weaknesses in the eye and still believe I’m one of the strongest people they know.
My sisters occupied and experienced the same world as me, at the same eye level as me, and there is an incredible intimacy in that that you don’t appreciate — or know enough to cling to — until you reach adulthood.
We are not all that similar in a ton of ways that don’t really matter. In fact, we’re quite different. For example, neither of my sisters likes beer. They homeschool their kids; I don’t. We vary wildly on politics. We have different passions, different friends and different life stories. Our musical tastes overlap, but only slightly. Our preferences are pretty divergent in the kitchen, in our closets and in our home décor. Neither of them watches football.
My point is we are not carbon copies of one another, thank goodness, but we are similar in all the ways that do matter. When I win, they cheer. And when I lose, well, they’d say I’ve never lost at anything, even if I insisted and had proof.
When I admit my failures to them, they do not condemn me. They assure me, even when I don’t believe it, that I am better than the sum of my mistakes. They do not coddle me or make excuses for me, but they work fervently to understand me and to help me understand myself.
They know how to get under my skin, and they occasionally do, but only in doses small enough so that I might not forget that they know how to do it.
My sisters are my lifeline. And when I’m sinking, they sense it, and they pull me up. When I’m broken, they pick up the pieces and hold them gingerly, helping me glue them together into something better than I was before.
Not long ago, amid a tough year of personal struggles, I decided to get a tattoo. I needed a visual reminder that I am stronger than I think I am, that love surrounds me, and God’s grace lifts me far higher than I could ever reach alone. I didn’t tell my sisters beforehand, because I was worried they’d try to talk me out of it. I do not come from a family of tattoo aficionados. Nobody in my immediate family has a tattoo, and I wasn’t sure the reaction to mine would be positive.
But I did it — a permanent piece of symbolic art on the underside of my right forearm.
When I walked into my older sister’s house a week later, both sisters greeted me with harsh words. They’d seen a picture of the ink, and they indeed had a few things to say about it. Turns out they WERE mad that I’d gotten a tattoo — without them.
Why didn’t I tell them I wanted a tattoo, they wondered. “We never would have let you get that by yourself!” my little sister said, thrusting her bare forearm at me. “We would have marched in there with you and said, ‘We want the same thing.’”
“Solidarity!” my big sister echoed, sticking out her arm too.
Solidarity. I snuck away from the family chaos a few minutes later and cried quiet tears of relief. Not the relief of knowing they approved of the tattoo, but the relief of knowing these women are not just beside me, they are inside me. I became who I was meant to be in part because of their prodding, giggling and defending. They’re still doing it, thank God, and they have no intention of stopping. Without realizing it, they are making me stronger, healthier, smarter and happier than I would be alone.
Someday, my heart breaks to think it, at least one of my boys will suffer a loss, or be seriously ill, or just find himself adrift, unsteady. If he’s as smart as I know he will be, he will seek solace in his brother’s presence. And those grooves that they’ve made in each other’s psyches, in each other’s hearts, will fit together and soothe both of them. They will feel a peace, a safety, that they haven’t been able to find — or didn’t know they were looking for — elsewhere.
Perhaps they’ll get matching tattoos; perhaps not. Won’t matter. They are already marked, in a hundred ways inside and out, with a single word that embodies the best of each other and humanity.
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