My younger brother Addison and I are six years apart. As it turned out, that seems to have been the perfect age difference for us. When he was born I was old enough to think that he was the coolest thing in the world. I didn’t feel jealous when we got attention because I was right there along with everyone else giving him the same attention. My mother often recounts how I was the only one that could understand him and decipher his baby gurgles. But I’ve heard many older siblings can do that with infant and toddler brothers and sisters. It’s just that natural connection we share.
As he grew older, we were still close enough in age that we would play together. Where I grew up with He-Man, he grew up with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Our den was a testament to the great capacity of childhood imagination as Shredder took on He-Man and Beastman got whooped by Leonardo and Donatello. We picked on each other and wrestled together, all the while I was always looking out for him and he was looking up to me. When he started school, I was there to protect him from bullies on the bus ride. I remembered what it was like when I was his age and I was the bookish kid that always got picked on. We were both skinny, which made for instant ridicule. I remembered what that was like and so I tried to shield him from it. Whereas I grew a thick skin from all that teasing, Addison wore his emotions on his sleeve which egged on the bullies all the more. How many times did he come home crying? So I looked out for him as best I could, because that’s what a good big brother does.
That’s how it was until I turned 18 and then it was off to college. I was still very active with Scouts back in Atlanta, so I was often driving back and forth between UGA in Athens and my parents’ home in back in the city. There was one Sunday evening I remember in particular when I was getting ready to head back to school. Addison kept asking me to play this or that video game, or show me this new toy; whatever he could to keep me there just a little bit longer. But I was the young freshman – anxious to return to college and my new found freedom. I was so drunk on my new independence, that it wasn’t until later that week when I was talking to my mother that she pointed out how touching it was what he had been trying to do. As she filled me in, I discovered Addison was having the hardest time with me leaving home for college.
The weight of it hit me all at once. My dear little brother just lost his best friend, and that best friend was so preoccupied with his new life that he hadn’t even noticed. While I was off enjoying my independence, he was home missing me. Even with my parents at home, I can only imagine how empty the house must have felt like to him with me no longer there to play with. Suddenly there was no one there to drive him around to do cool things. He had his toys, but how much fun are toys when your ubiquitous co-writer of imagination is no longer there to share them with you?
As terrible as it all made me feel, I knew there was little I could do. I was in college and it was time for him to grow up on his own. Granted, over the years to come, he did finally grow into his own. For the first time he wasn’t under my shadow. Nonetheless, I know it wasn’t easy. Growing up hardly ever is. In the end, I still remember that evening. And now when I look back, I can’t help but feel sorry for having to leave, and feel guilty for not even noticing his cry for attention for his big brother whom he loved so much.
God, my Brother, how many times have I wandered off to do my own thing and left You behind, longing for my attention? How many times have I been preoccupied with my own little world and forgotten to include You in it? Have you been heart broken and despondent when Your love went ignored? My Brother, let me never forget You again. But when I do, know that I’ll always come back for You. And Lord, thank you for my own precious little brother. He still means all the world to me. Amen.