This was, of course, easy when we were young. I lived to be recognized by the most important people in my life, and they were happy to oblige in the manner that came natural in a basically loving family.
In late age, siblings come round to the fact that their concerns are now considered by the television and world at large as economic opportunities. And, mostly medical ones, should one view the evening news (an old folks demographic arena, if a friend of mine can be trusted.)
So the sweetness of that early life bond between you and your siblings comes back to haunt you, if you let the defining character of identity define you straight out of the gravity of your siblings grasp. Of course, some siblings simply abuse their family (I have at times) and face what any abuser must.
The vast majority of us, however, have a more prosaic task when approaching, or experiencing middle age.
How do I listen? How do I discover without assumptions? How do I act like a friend after all these years?
Children have a genius for things that don't include "All these years." Excepting, one would hope, Paul Simon's "still crazy."
So, nearing middle age, I yearn to learn of a righteous, and more important by far, pleasurable path with my sibs, that does include all these years.
Well... as it's been said before, once again, "the kid's allright." (Man, does anybody say that in England. Surely only hipsters. Or no one.)
So, how do you say I love you?
My buddy Robert Boyer has some ideas he received from his daughter Becky. Becky has a somewhat strange relationship with me since she lives in my town, and I live (a stranger, of sorts) with her Dad. But, if it's fair, I'll go back to formative experiences to explain why that's OK.
Robert was not the favored parent in the Boyer family. His wife, Cynthia, was. I have mentioned this before, but trust me, it isn't me that is bringing it up. It seems to be a subject of great interest between me and his children, though, Robert thankfully is less enthusiastic about discussing it.
Nobody frankly faults Robert for this. He is who he is. And in most ways, that has been his definition of himself to the world.
For the clever sap who would like to challenge him in this respect, I feel I should refer you to his dropping out of the most defining experience of the generation of Americans who fought World War Two. I suspect it is only the people themselves who called themselves conscientious objectors, who believed the term in its entirety, especially at that time in US history.
But... in any case, Cynthia had neither an iron in that fire (due, of course, to her sex, but crucially, also her temperament), nor a strong desire to live mostly amongst her deepest convictions, in her life. Cynthia sought her purposes and identity in life from the messy world outside her door. Her husband, she knew all along, would have preferred to have left the door locked. God knows how they might have lived without a key.
One of the defining memories of Cynthia, whom I never met, as given to me by her son, David, my friend of forty seven, is the nearly constant presence of his mother, in the kitchen, listening on the phone to a "friend" unloading. Cynthia would utter monosyllabic responses to gushes of feeling from the speaker side of the phone technology. Her son, David, would, still a small child, climb up on the refrigerator and listen to his mother. From what I know of him, he has patterned much of his deepest convictions on what he heard.
I need not tell you what that entailed.
It seems awfully important to us, in the thick of our life, what problems we have. And the more important we feel, the more the empathic among us listen to. Until the balance seems scaled to our impossible narcissism. I know, just this evening I spoke volumes to a friend who called me to simply ask me to go to a movie. I am fairly sure he did not wish for my (I thought) nuanced analysis. I ended the conversation with my usual, "I'm babbling, and surely should end this." Was that an invitation for him to say, "No Andy, this is pure heaven." I do not know, and surely hope not.
So Robert Boyer shares with me a number of problems. We were delighted to find one another. Both of us coping with problems dissimilar, but legitimate none the less. Robert has friends wishing they would take more time to love him, given the crucial role he played in their life when they had no one else to turn to. In the seventies he was an extremely unusual supporter of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender folks. I have a suspicion that that is one of the things that got him fired from Penn State. Some large liberal arts institutions could back then claim that their constituency simply could not tolerate a moderate voice on that discussion. Robert would have laughed at their gravitas. He didn't fight Hitler, remember?
Robert has his place in this broken world.
So, needless to say, I am willing to spread some of his ideas despite their lesser value in his family, as compared to his unbelievable wife.
The thing that relates to my siblings from Robert, for this discussion, is his relatively consistent refrain of The Five Ways To Say I Love You, which he learned from his daughter, Becky.
The list is simple:
1) Affirmative feedback
2) Quality time
3) non-exploitative touching
4) Acts of kindness
There are many reasons, if you are human, to appreciate these reminders. I have known many thugs who would have smiled in memory of the "saints" and "martyrs" who evidenced them.
It is my peculiar privilege to have known these things as a matter of course in my family and friends. It is my duty and responsibility to find some way to reflect that in my life. Despite any lack of the same from others.
Of course... I get this stuff all the time from others. But that will never be the basis for my friendships.
I try not to tell people this, though sometimes I wish to torture some people. When truly pushed, to near violence, I will sometimes admit to some that it doesn't matter at all what they think of me. All that matters is what I think of them.
That this deliciously narcissistic view has some basis in a slightly moral perspective is a constant pleasure to me. Such a perspective is in clear view of anyone interested in the classic narratives of Western Culture, the Bible certainly (mostly New Testament, but not exclusively) and other, probably better reads like Moby Dick, to be sure. The author of Billy Budd, and the creator such an observer as Ishmael is unlikely to be forgotten, once read, as a humanist in the broadest sense.
So why do I bring Robert's aphorisms up now? Everybody knows the elderly have little else to do but instruct. It is their bully pulpit to sit and await deliverance of their needs while the younger employ what the older cannot to a lesser acclaim, right?
Well, if you believe that, then you have no need to read this Blog, or this chapter of my life.
I bring this up to bring nuance to the pleasure I find in my siblings way of life. They have always told me they loved me. But more interesting, now, to the man they have celebrated, is the way they say they love you.
Do they say it five ways? Probably more.
Let me start with my sister, Angela.
I feel it necessary to give her a chapter of her own. So read the next one if you will.