For me, brothers and summers go together. My blood brother Ted and I have spent many many summer hours together. As the weather warms and we strip down to our naked white hides, seeking out cool waters, cool drinks, and cool adventures - he’s always been there.
Having an older brother means that you’ve got someone to watch as he strikes out from the nest into the jungle. You get to see how it goes for him – before you venture out. He’s the first to plunge into the cold waters of parental pleasing & conflict, girls, jobs, institutional rewards & conflict, women and all other forms of intoxifications, career, and all other forms of the hunt in the jungle.
At first you eagerly follow his every step – sure that your bigger, stronger, smarter brother has chosen the best way and if you could only catch up – you too will be bigger, stronger and smarter.
Later, you learn that it’s a good thing to stay back several paces. When he trips into quicksand, off a cliff, or into a nest of hornets – you get to go to the rescue – or at least sympathize (as you take the detour).
Ted and I have often taken summer jobs together. From Toronto Star paper routes to the Kingston Road gas station. From road construction in the Ottawa Valley to hard rock mining in Snow Lake. From digging luxury swimming pools in Rosedale to a soup kitchen church in Regent Park. We’ve shared sweat and toil, heartache and hard luck, and many many many adventures that ring with wonder and laughter still.
Even when I choose to take a completely different path, it’s funny how we seem to end up at the same place after a time. When summer hits and we get naked and drunk sharing the sorrows and joys of our separate journeys, we find that we’re still those same little boys who fought over possessions, parental affections, and personal space (“don’t come onto my side of the room – or else!” “Oh yeah?”). Nothing much changes. And there is a strange, if disquieting, comfort in that.
But - I remember this moment from the summer. It must have been July because it was hot and we were up at the Three Brothers Falls enjoying the cool rush of cascading waters. Ted was sunning himself on the hot flat rock between the second and third falls. And as I regarded him – I had this moment. I realized that for all the similarities we shared. For all the experiences we’d tackled together. For all the commonalities – no one in this world has more in common – that I really have no clue what it’s like to be Ted.
And it seems to me still – that this is true. Every soul in this universe is on a totally unique adventure. There never has been, nor ever will be – another you.
I’ve studied so many different typologies – wisdom efforts to categorize and summarize all the different human responses. Ennegram, Myers Briggs, Birkman, Jungian Archetypes, True Colours, Animal Totems, etc., etc. All these studies are especially fun for my “type” who carry around the question “who am I?”.
It is such a human response to this world. When faced with another step out into the jungle – it’s radically unknown and unknowable random threats and thrills – it is so human to want to quantify, summarize, rationalize, and arm ourselves with a theory of what to expect next.
Call it survival, call it fear, call it cunning – we find comfort in the company of others who seem to share our approach, our tastes, our sense of humour, our thirst for the sacred. We arm ourselves with weapons gleaned from past experience and the observations of what we might expect next.
Yet the Maker continually comes up with new formulas for this life’s adventure. This second – how many new babies have joined the Race? And while genetically, culturally, sociologically conditioned they will be – the world they encounter has never been this way before. Their responses will be unlike their parents because the world is changing – because the Maker is always making things anew.
To engage life in all it’s wonder and diversity. To engage in a totally unique experience of this moment by moment evolving universe – that is our birthright, our GOD given curse or gift (depending on how you choose to react to it – today) – is to be a spirit.
Can I be spirit today? Can I approach today as a totally unknowable trip into the jungle. Become the art of living that surely our Creator enjoys. Why else would this random, variable, evolving world be like this – if the Creator just can’t wait to see what allan will do today? Will he surprise us? Will he let us down? Will he do that same old thing he always does?
GOD knows? I believe GOD doesn’t know – and eagerly urges us on to ever new attempts at being blood and flesh Spirit. We only die when we stop trying.
And this summer of transformation, of dislocation, of healing – where I’ve never been before – and I’ve always been – I’ve sought out the company of my many brothers – brothers of mind and spirit and courage. My brothers have been especially important to me. Many might be surprised if I named them here – to know that they’ve made a difference. Mostly it’s just knowing that they’re “there” is the difference that counts for me.
This is not to say that my blood sister and my many sisters of faith have not had their usual calming, restoring, and wonderfully stimulating effect on my soul. They have. Each one offering a gift that’s so appreciated.
But when a man finds himself alone, it is other men who can come closest to his heart. Alone, we find ourselves disarmed and defenseless. We discover the truth of how totally fearful we really are – waking in the dark night – exposed to the ruthless nature of the jungle we cannot ever truly escape – no matter how hard we try.
Alone we know – blood, sweat, tears, toil. While toys and relief are temporary - tests and twits to contend with will never end. Brothers don’t need to talk much about this. Talk is in metaphors of cars and sports and business. Talk is for tall tales and lies that bring laughter. Only in Song are tears allowed.
A brother is one who doesn’t try to kid you that you are alone out there. A brother is one who lets you know that though you are alone with what you face – he’s got your back.