Thursday, November 8, 2012

Brother, Role Model, Friend

Today is my oldest brother's birthday. Only in the last several years have I begun to understand to what extent Arie has affected my memories, my tendencies, my skills, my tastes, and many more facets of who I am. In honor of Arie's 34th year, I'm writing this post to explain just how much I appreciate him and the brother, role model, and friend he's been to me over the many years I've known him.

A young boy, perhaps four or five years old, walks with his 16-year-old brother on the sidewalk which follows the curve of the tree-lined streets. The older brother holds his hand, guiding him towards their destination: a 7-11 gas station. When they finally arrive, the generous brother buys his small sibling a “slurpy” and a pack of baseball cards, before setting out again to return home, a few short blocks away. But the journey isn’t over so easily; the young boy starts whining, pleading with his older brother to be carried home on a short walk that doesn’t require all that much effort, even from a four-year-old. But once again, the older brother exhibits the love he has for his brother and lifts him to his shoulders.

Indubitably, many of my favorite memories from childhood involve Arie in one way or another, and not just because we shared a house or a room. I was fortunate to be born when I was; Arie was 12, and beginning to be able to shape a more concrete and intentional view of the kind of brother he wanted to be. He styled my hair, helped me place our pet parakeet on my shoulder, allowed me to choose baseball cards from the box under his bed (normally Roger Clemens, Kirby Puckett, or Rickey Henderson, which can be seen from my playing card collection), told me stories (Peter the Great was the main character. Other prominent characters included the Bear and the Magic Prune), defended me from aggressive was no wonder that, when his soon-to-be wife (Lindsay) entered the scene when I was ten, I took an immediate dislike to her. The main reason, of course, was that she was a girl. A close second, though, was because she was shifting my brother's attention away from me! It took years for my perception and actions toward her to thaw. All of this is to say: my childhood memories are wonderful, and many of the best ones involve Arie in some way or another.

My teenage years included many visits to my eldest brother's apartment, where sometimes I would even get to spend the night with just him and Lindsay (without my other siblings' presence). Frequently, these special times included a movie, popcorn, a card game, and a much later bedtime than I would have had at home (yes, I still had a recommended bedtime into my teens...not that I always kept it). Looking back now, I am extremely thankful that my brother and his wife made it a priority not to let their relationships with Arie's multitudinous siblings fade. To this day, I still make trips (when busy schedules allow) to spend a night on Arie and Lindsay's couch.

If you know me well, you know that I love music (and have likely been quite condescending toward your own obviously inferior tastes). Name an artist I love, though, and there are 90% odds that Arie is the one who introduced me to the band. Iron & Wine. Ben Folds. Jars of Clay. Burlap to Cashmere. Wilco. The Decemberists. Blind Pilot. The Avett Brothers (and yes, you should listen to ALL of these bands). The list goes on and on and on and on (a notable exception to the "Arie influenced" list is Simon & Garfunkel. I'm still trying to get him to admit to Paul Simon's lyrical brilliance). 

In addition to the musical influences, there is the reading and writing side. A visit to Arie's house includes the inescapable conclusion that he's crazy about books, mostly because you can't enter a room without encountering a bookshelf (full of the coolest editions of his favorite books). Many of the books have not even been deemed worthy as of yet to read, but there they sit. As a child, my first phrase was "read-a-book?" Arie was sometimes the unfortunate recipient of this request, and the time he spent reading to me has not been wasted. I, too, have my own rapidly growing collection of books, many of which were recommended or given to me by my oldest brother. Another memory emerges: surreptitious sneak peaks into the novel Arie was writing on our Windows 95 desktop computer. It had something to do with a Tower. Beyond that, I don't remember much, other than that I, too, wrote stories on that desktop computer. When I was 11-13ish, I compiled my longest story and bestowed it upon Arie. I don't revisit that story any longer (its plot line causes me to shudder upon thinking of it), but I know that at least partial credit for what skill I have as a writer goes to my brother for the example he set as the editor-in-chief of the school paper at JCCC, the thoughtful blogger (before his first child arrived), the exemplary wordsmith.

A few weeks ago, I made the drive downtown on a Friday night after work to visit my brother. It was a rare occasion in his household: his wife and four sons were gone for several days. I opened the door of his lovely house (remodeled mostly by him) to see him sitting beside a wood fire, books strewn across the coffee table, laptop on hand, sermon notes being prepared. We talked for a short while, and then made the ascent upstairs for a game of NBA 2k10. It turned into several games, because I beat him soundly in the first attempt. Following his futile tries to defeat me, we enjoyed a couple of beers and Mission Impossible 4 before he headed to his bed and I spread my blanket on his couch. In the morning, we went to one of his favorite local restaurants for breakfast, where we stuffed ourselves on gravy and biscuits, drank coffee, and discussed the ways in which we're similar, the blind spots we share, and the ways we can both grow. This is the best part of the friendship my brother and I share: amid the fun and the banter, there is the ability to discuss deeper matters without effort or discomfort.

The 1100 words I've already written are not nearly enough to recognize the extent to which Arie has influenced and instructed me, through words and behavior. I've not written of the times I've wept at thinking about how much I miss him, the coffee I love because of his careful tutelage, the basketball games we've played, the trash-talk we've exchanged. Even now I don't fully see just how important and wonderful my brother has been to me, but this I do know: the ways that my brother has loved me, the gifts he's shared with me, the ways he has inspired me...all of these things have had an effect because of the love we both feel from our Father, and God's hand in both our lives to shape and grow us according to His plan. And, although we no longer are part of the same church, our common faith is our best asset in knowing and loving each other. It has always been our best chance at a love that transcends the love brothers naturally have. The way of Jesus, the sacrifice He made to ensure our salvation...this is the power behind the love we know and have experienced. Though I've written about Arie before, I will always have reason to write again.

Happy birthday, brother. I love you immensely.

In the spring of 2009, when I took Composition 1, I wrote about you. Here's my conclusion paragraph:

"It’s hard to explain how much Arie has meant to me in so many different ways: he is the one I cite as the catalyst to my now-diverse music tastes, the one who opened my eyes to the magic of trash-talking, the one who took me on truck rides, the one who still invites me to his noisy house to get advice or just hang out. I owe many things to him, but the best gift he has ever given me is his example: I looked to him for the way to live, and he showed me. He pointed the way to contentment in God, a happy marriage, and a joy-filled life. He has proved by example that life is no walk in the park or jaunt in the mall: life is hard, but the yoke is easy and the burden light for those who put their trust in Jesus. I see Jesus in my brother, because my brother sees Him."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

There Is Love

Hi friends! It has been about half a year. I'm attempting to ease my way back into writing with an effort that takes no effort. So. Here you go! It's a song by Fort Atlantic that has beautiful lyrics and a great melody. I hope you enjoy it.

There Is Love by Fort Atlantic on Grooveshark

There Is Love
By Fort Atlantic


"Don't let the sadness grow
You're beautiful, don't you know?
It's easy to dive into doubt
But harder to climb back out

Don't drink from the well
Where the bitterness dwells
That water is wasting your time

And push past the anger
And cynical strangers
Whose sharp words are always unkind
Oh, there is love we can find
We will find

When lies get a voice in your ear
And whisper your deepest fears
You can either believe
Or look through these empty things

Acknowledge the hard things
As ships that are passing
Don't let pain destroy your life
Pray that your misses
Find gentle forgiveness
As deep as the hue of red wine
Oh, there is love we can find
We will find.

Come hearts that are scared and alone
Let love give you warmth in the cold
Let faith and hope lead you on
Let joy be the theme of your song..."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Convoluted, Swiftly Jotted Thoughts on a Rainy Day.

Disclaimer: By no means are either of these short paragraphs a complete indicator of the whole picture of life. If they seem rather dark, I am aware that they're incomplete, a snapshot in a long string of negatives. Sometimes I just write, though. This is what came out today.

From a Glassy Overlook

We build the walls that suffocate us. We mix mortar, lay foundations, sweat and curse and damn the process...but we are master masons. We supervise, incorporate others' ideas, gesture wildly, insulate with carefully chosen black felt. We shape our casket, drive the nails, climb inside, nestle our heads onto the immovable oak chest of a coffin we're sure will protect us from all the pain. Breathing becomes a task we carefully concentrate on. Suck at the air. Slurp it in. Soon, even this ingredient of existence seems a curse. We hold our mouths shut, tightly seal the lips we moved so often. The wood seems to embrace more warmly than any human ever could. The box we built, the stones we stacked...they have burned the ladder to the escape hatch, clanged it shut. Darkness. Silence. Blue-faced in the black, we shut our eyes and yearn for death to save us from our empty prison, deafened by the cacophony of silence.
What an eloquent lie it all was, this attempt at safety. To cut off all others, live all alone, to be without needs.

A life alone is not a true life.


Inside the need to feel wanted. A well of want so deep I drown in it, frequently. All the past screams at the tendencies of the present. All the future extends ear plugs with an air of confident solemnity. Such persuasive speeches from both of these overqualified advisors.
Find a job elsewhere! Join the ranks of the shuffling unemployed, resumes stuffed with experience and promising possibility.
The robin is a better mentor than those raving skeptics. Hop. Hop. Hop. Snatch the worm, flit away. The robin doesn't hunt for what it can't attain, or chance its future on an especially appetizing angleworm that could cost its freedom or beating heart.
But there are dead robins in the streets.
A flicker of reddish-orange-grey, a swift collision, a sudden end. No more worms to halve, no more early mornings or impatient squawking infants. Only a black clouding, a perpetual zooming chorus playing in memorandum.
The eyes never close.

Friday, March 30, 2012


Characteristics of a quiet not often experienced by those who live in our culture:

Hearing the wind.
Knowing what song is playing in your head, and why.
Rocking chairs.
Seeing stars.
Feeling the tread wear off of shoes that scuffle unhurriedly across black pavement.
Listening to breath pass by.
Crickets chirping.
Water in pipes.
Knowing what I'm thinking.
Realizing my throat is dry.
Remembering that being solitary is not the same as being alone.
I am never alone.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cockroaches. Corgis. The Way of Things.

I walked a dog today. A corgi; a smiling, short-legged, aging dog, who doesn't understand that life will soon end for him. In Spanish, we would refer to a dog's life ending in the preterit case, because that's how you talk about the beginning and end of most anything in the world that I am currently inhabiting, 50 minutes a day, M-T-W-TH-F. 

The corgi grins, and sniffs, and blesses the earth with nutrient-rich extract from a digestive system that is wearing out. He does not care that, for him, yesterday's highlight was my brother pulling handfuls of loose hair from his back in my living room, nestled close to human beings who barricade him into a glass room at night to keep him from leaving his dead fur on the furniture. He may not even remember it. 

Today I looked at greens. There are little sprouts slowly lifting their cautious tips to seek warm sunlight all around me, if I look. The grass will wither. The flowers, just now beginning their slow ascent from barely-conceived and un-pollinated, will soon have dried out and faded. We will not remember most of them. Will we even see them? 

Notice what is around us in this crazy, mysterious world. This is a planet where ice melts and turns into rivers, which hollow out caverns far beneath the ground that the vast majority of the inhabitants of this earth will never be aware of. At the college I have attached myself to, the grounds crew has stuck small signs into the ground in the flower beds: "Shhh. Tulips are sleeping." As if a human would care about a small flower that will die unnoticed, uncared about, soon to be forgotten without ever being known. 

This is a dangerous place, where tornadoes kill without warning, where the ocean cares not about who it will swallow next. Cockroaches dissect bats, furry feet struggling furiously, wings ensnared in their own guano. No ultrasonic echolocation technology can save a bat mired in its own refuse. The cockroaches do not care. Their bellies (do these nightmarish insects have bellies) full, they return to sifting through mountains of bat-poo for less obvious prey. 

The sun rises every morning. Are you awake to see it? Do you see that the trees already have buds? Do you notice that there are ants underneath your feet that have struggled all day to find the crumb being trundled along, only to be crunched beneath your unfeeling loafer? 

Know what is around you. Don't lose sight of the order of this universe. The world may not seem to care, and the people walking by you behind their carefully manicured mask of unfeelingness may seem more like robots than humans who feel similar pain to your own, but there is an order. There is a way of things. 

There are some things that do not change. The corgi will die. He will turn into filling for cockroach belly (the cockroach's life-span much shorter than the corgi's), and his bones will lie forgotten, if they remain at all. 

I am not a corgi. I am not consigned to days that hold no significance beyond a treat or a belly-scratching, and (though a dog can sometimes seem to know exactly what I am thinking and why) my fate is secure in a Savior who fills my days with reasons to smile and rejoice in the midst of pain, in the middle of a world that can be scary and unpredictable and filled with pain. 

"I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need..."

What Spanish verb case will I use to explain eternity?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Unfinished Thoughts in Rhymes

August 2011:

Apparently this can't end well;
Too much pain. 
Redemption's hard to sell; 
Much easier to dwell 
On hurt and cost
And love that's lost.

...What of forgiveness,
Change, and hope?
Is there room for renewal,

There's always a way.
Though some say
That some things can't be,
I wonder.
If we actually trust, 
Won't He answer? He must.

January 2012

I flee a fierce fear,
That I will lose control
Of loves and hopes and
Being near.

The voices grasp, lull,
Whisper, jeer.

If there was something there
It's gone.
Lost are the moments that made me care;
Vanished, dissipated,
Faded, like the dawn.

January 2012

Is it a crime
To cherish hope?
Is there time
To climb this slope?

It often seems that I'm a ghost-
Stare right through me,
Ignore me--coast.

February 2012

I've never understood
Why those I'm close with
Step away, or would.

There's some strange myth
That "men don't care-"
That we "don't know."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sometimes a song speaks most truly.

I've been dealing with a lot of conflicting wants lately. This song is pretty accurate of how I feel. And, since I haven't posted in a very long time, a song seems like a good way to attempt to ease my way back in. Over the Rhine is one of my favorite bands, primarily for the amazing way they entwine bittersweetness and artistry. On this blog, and in my life, that is valued.

Enjoy. Tell me your thoughts, if you wish. What does this song and its words mean to you?

Goodbye (This Is Not Goodbye) by Over The Rhine on Grooveshark


Goodbye (This Is Not Goodbye)
help me tell the truth you see
that’s all i’m trying to do is
tell the truth
i’m not that shy
this is not goodbye
and later on i won’t know how
i don’t know who else to be
more and more i’m secretly just me
open your eyes

help me tell the truth you see
that’s all i’m trying to do is
tell the truth
it’s just in my head
all i’ve left unsaid
and later on it won’t come out

i have seen the final curtain fall
If i have to i’ll surrender all

i’m always coming around too late
too late

it’s not too late