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 brothers...it 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."