Saturday, May 02, 2009

Scarred Earth

I must have been about 10, which would have put my brother at age 8. There aren't too many concurrent details to include about this time other than to mention that, for various reasons, my ego had inflated itself to such a size that it was a miracle that it could support it's own weight. He had never liked school (for various reasons that no one bothered to ask about; reasons that likely wouldn't have been listened to if they had come up), and thus did not do well at it. It wasn't that he couldn't, he actively didn't. I enjoyed school more often than not (for various reasons that no one bothered to ask about-myself included; reasons that likely wouldn't have been listened to if they had come up), excelled at my studies, and gladly soaked up the consequent-but always very temporary-approval and accolades.

My father worked in a factory my whole life, a time when it was still possible to do such work for a wage that would support a family. But this was the 80's...the Gordon Gekko's of the world were being born, raised, and lifted up for our adoration, and adore these people, I did. I loved the suits. Slick and shiny was obviously the way to go, and of course this was supported by the fact that my father always tried to motivate by saying that I ddn't want to get stuck doing what he was doing, and that I should get a job where I work with my head instead of my hands. After all, God (my parents version) gave me the capability, and like God, the system we live in will love and reward those who exhibit diligent submission and faithfulness. The doctrines of religion and culture infused themselves one into the other, and it was around this time that I decided these things were manifest evidence that I was headed for great wealth and success. After all, I was nothing like my father. That was my brother's department. He was as much my father as I was my mother, a realization that would have come in very handy had I taken the time to think about it, given the manner in which my parents related to one another, or rather didn't, or couldn't, as was most often the case.

My brother and I were outside in the yard playing and messing around, and per usual, we began arguing about something. I can't remember the particulars of the thing but they aren't important, other than the particular that I was trying to impose my will in the same manner that the will of others was regularly imposed upon me, which is to say by way of a lot of screaming and/or physical force. Of course, as is always the case, conflict in this manner continues until both sides tire and the thing fizzles, never reaching any sort of conclusion or resolution. But on this day, as the thing wound down and my brother walked away I decided that it was time to pull out the big guns, saying something to the effect of "Yeah? Well it won't be too much longer and I'm going to be wildly successful and rich, and you're such an idiot you're going to be stuck working in a factory your whole life."

The ignorance and cruelty in that sentiment is so heinous and unbounded that it's difficult to leave its admission sitting on the page.

It wasn't until later on the next day, when I noticed my father not only wasn't speaking to me, he wasn't even looking at me. I couldn't figure out why. I asked, but any response was clipped and generally short. Something was obviously very wrong, and in my ego-haze, I just couldn't imagine what that might be. But there was no question it had something to do with me, so I persisted in my inquiries because it had been two days and I was starting to freak out a little bit. Finally, what should have been more than obvious was finally made clear. My brother hadn't "tattled" or run off to Mommy and Daddy. He was so crushed that they noticed immediately and made him come clean. It couldn't have been difficult. He was too small a vessel to bear such poison and his cup naturally ran over, splashing onto my father, and as we stood there on the porch three days later and he told me what the problem was, the true virulence of this thing I had unleashed made itself known. He wasn't angry like I had come to expect. I could see in his eyes that I had cut deeply enough that it was still all he could do try and stop the bleeding. There is no room for anger when pain is all-encompassing.

If my statement had affected my father, a grown man, so deeply, then its effect on my brother was surely more consequential. Of course that statement has the benefit of hindsight, because at the time I was so simultaneously awed and shamed by just the abstract of what I had done I couldn't apologize enough. Its prominence in my mind slowly ebbed away over time, but while the statement 'time heals all wounds' may be a correct one, it's worth remembering that when wounds heal they tend to leave scars, and scars have a tendency to hang around much longer.


I haven't seen my brother in about three years now, and I'm supposed to be going back to the Midwest to visit soon. While we haven't seen each other in some time, we tend to speak on the phone once every week or two and such calls usually last an hour or more in what I thought were amicable arguments/discussions regarding the goings on of the world. Evidently this is not so, considering the hostility with which I was suddenly blindsided this evening, based on my arguing the demonstrable point that feeling some way about a thing is not the same as actual knowledge and/or experience of the thing. The response to this was quite suddenly 'oh, you just think you're so much smarter' and 'try to dumb it down for us country bumpkins', etc. Way out-of-bounds stuff that was completely unjustified given the topic at hand. I don't need to further belabor the details of how the discussion further devolved and ended with nothing accomplished because it was something that didn't really need to happen in the first place.

After spending a bit of time nursing my righteous indignation the above memory, stark and ugly, "reappeared out of nowhere" as they say, provided an opportunity to practice the very thing I constantly preach, which is that we must try and understand the other side of a thing instead of trying to make ourselves feel better about being correct on a specific point. It's not that I think my brother harbors a grudge that's two decades old, but at the same time it seems like it would be ignorant to ignore the ways in which our past has the ability to color our present. It is much easier to dwell on how right we are than it is trying to understand why the person we are at odds with thinks we are wrong, but making efforts to gain this understanding, whether our individual indignations are justified or not will prevent the empty hostilities which cause us to arrive in these situations to begin with.

The scars that we inflict, just as much as the ones we carry, all have a great deal to say. Perhaps that's the reason they stay around so long.