16 November 2003

An Infrequent Moment of Seriousnessosity


Growing up, my brother Kyle and I never really had the most poignant or loving relationship. Most of this is my fault. When I was hitting my stride, Kyle was there, but four years behind me in age and, as I thought then, eons behind me in compatibility. I think it's the typical Big Brother Struggle (TM)...you know you're stuck with this other kid in the house, but he's annoying and overbearing, trying to tag along with you everywhere and just generally f*cking up everything you're attempting to do as you swing around the corner into puberty. Your reaction? Make sure you know just how much you detest him. And boy, did I make sure I did that.

I'm sure other big brothers have done the same. But that shouldn't be used as an excuse. I should have been a different kind of big brother all those years. Things were different for us because that was the same time we were warring our parents got divorced and life started mean more than just who got to watch what on TV or who owned which video game. For years I had a chance to be a role model, not only for Kyle but for our two younger brothers. And I blew it. I was too concerned with myself and what was going on with me to take responsibility for anyone else. I can't shoulder too much blame here, as I was only 12-16 and still figuring myself out, much less the rest of the world. But other people figured out how to step up, right? Why couldn't I?

The positive side of the situation is that we made it through. And not even so much that we made it through but that we put it behind us. I grew up, Kyle grew up, time moved on, things got better. Don't get me wrong, it's not all peaches and cream that made everything disappear. You can't go back and redo it. I left for college and I knew there were a lot of things that I should have done different, a lot of choice I should have though better of, so much that might have made a more positive impact on his life. But if you asked me to go back and remember the things we fought about, who started what, who won in the end...I couldn't. Not because I don't want to, but because I have really put it out of my mind. Not in the way that psychologists classify it, Repressed Memories and the like. I don't remember anymore because, is the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter.

What I could tell you about were the ridiculous one-on-one football games in the backyard; teaching him how to climb a tree; taking a walk down to Rakestraw's; pushing him on his kiddie ATV when the battery power ran out; showing him how to throw a sweet knuckle curve with a whiffle ball; being the first person he called the first time he got drunk. All that was the stuff that mattered, not the petty bickerings or the fat lips that resulted. Somehow, after all we had been through, the kid looked up to me. Amazing how that kind of thing happens, right? It's cliche, sure, but only eleven or twelve years removed from the onset of the Thrilla in the Villa we're not only close-knit brothers, we're best friends. There's a sense of pride that comes with being related to one another. It's not like it used to be, but I have to think that it's so good right now, in part, because of it.

When Kyle joined the Air Force two years ago I had reservations. Can he hack it? Will he take to discipline? What is he thinking, what with September 11th still burned into our permanent psyche? Doesn't he know how dangerous this is?

If you know Kyle, you know these aren't concerns for him. It's not because he's a dumb kid or because he didn't care. It's because he's the type of person that almost always does what's right. He felt it was right for him to participate, to defend our country in one of the most turbulent periods in our short history. He didn't care that he could be potentially risking his life--he only cared that he had a chance to get in there and lend a hand. So he did, and he hasn't looked back once.

Tonight, Kyle hops aboard a massive cargo plane and endures a 13-hour nonstop flight to the Middle East. He's not going over there because he has to; he never needed to sign up for this assignment in the first place. He's going over there because he wants so badly to matter, so badly to do what is right. It's what he's always done. It's a sobering thought to know what's going on over there and knowing he's going to be right in the thick of it. It's even more sobering to know that there's nothing I can do now. My little brother has taken quite a big step. Where he used to need me, I--and everyone else-- now need him. I missed a large part of my chance to take care of him, and now, when I feel like I should the most, all I can do is grasp at air and hope for the best. Now I'm looking up to him.

Amazing how that kind of thing happens, right?

And it all got me thinking today, thinking about Kyle, thinking about what is going on in the world, thinking about what our roles are here in this place. It got me thinking about heroism. "Heroic" is a word we toss around too much too often for the wrong reasons. They often say that heroism is thrust upon unsuspecting men, not the other way around. Well, maybe that's true some of the time. But think about those people, all those people, that deliberately put themselves in the path of Harm's swift hands, knowing full well that the choices they've made could end their life at any moment. Think about all those people that work in the face of those odds. You realize that heroism is not based on time or chance. Heroism is not based on the number of wars in which a man fights or how many lives he takes in the process. Heroism is lives in the righteous ideals for which you fight, and the number of lives you preserve in doing so.

So sure, there is sadness in Kyle's departure to places unknown. But most of the tears that continue to well up in my eyes come only from pure, absolute pride for why he's there and what he stands for. I can't even begin to describe it. It made me think about what I'll say the next time when someone asks me what my little brother does. There are a list of things I could run off--my little brother is an Air Force Airman; my little brother is an MP; my little brother is a peacekeeper; my little brother is a representative; my little brother is a soldier. Or, I could just keep it simple.

My little brother is a hero. My little brother is my hero.

Kyle, you do what you've got to do, and you come home safe.