Dinner with my Brother

So the dinner with my brother and his family happened yesterday. After months of not speaking to one another, I have to say that I think it went very well.

I spent the majority of the day doing the necessary tidying around the house, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming (futilely) the eternal abundance of dog fur. I wasn’t TOO worried about whether the house was spotless. My brother and his family have two very sheddy dogs themselves. They wouldn’t judge.

I also made a big, BIG (too big) pot of chicken chili. There was shredded cheese, and tortilla chips and Chili Cheese Fritos to sprinkle on top, plus a couple dozen cornbread muffins. Three extra people and Mom came for dinner. I made enough food for two dozen. Better too much than not enough, I always say.

So they came. They gave the dogs much attention and pampering. The guys watched some football and contemplated the possibility of the Vikings making it to the Super Bowl in their hometown. And then warned each other not to jinx it by getting their hopes up. I gabbed with my sister-in-law, Mom and my nephew. We ate the chili and the cornbread muffins and sang the praises of Chili Cheese Fritos. We were almost too full – but not quite – to enjoy my sister-in-law’s mini Bailey’s Irish Cream – chocolate cheesecakes. They were aMAYzing!

Brother and I didn’t talk about what’s been bothering us all these past months. We didn’t hash out the hurts or discuss forgiveness, or hug, or cry. We just hung out like we always used to do. Anyway, Mom was here, and since she’s at the center of what’s gone wrong between my brothers and me, that might have been weird and unfair. Besides, texting seems to be the medium for he and I to say what’s in our hearts. Works for me. I think I’ll text him this morning and tell him how glad I am that he came.

 

Advertisements

Cliché

A new year has begun and I can’t help myself. My thoughts keep turning to how I might make this next trip around the sun better than the last. 2017 left a bitter taste in my mouth, and I’ve come to realize this is largely no one’s fault but my own.

The few words I wrote last year (and the many that I did not,) focused heavily on the stuff that has weighed on me for some time now – my aging mother, the silent war that wages on between her children, and the stifling sense of defeat, depression and sadness that has draped over my soul as a result.

The last quarter of the year really did me in. I had latched on to my anger and bitterness so tightly that I could hardly stand myself. I hadn’t spoken to either of my brothers in months, and every day, my stomach churned with resentment over their continued absence and lack of any sort of support in the daily care of my mom.

I used to be so close to one of my brothers, the one who is two years younger than me. He and his family used to be such a big part of our life. He and his wife used to spend so much time with us years ago. They came over to decorate Easter eggs with us, or carve pumpkins for Halloween, or just to hang out on a long, dreary winter day. He was my kids’ favorite uncle, hands down. And I realized one day in recent weeks, that in spite of all the reasons I’ve had to be mad at him … I missed him. I just missed him.

Why I’ve continued to remain connected to him on Facebook, I don’t know. I suppose it was just some twisted need to know what was going on in his life, and allow myself to feed my resentment every time I saw evidence that he had any opportunity to enjoy life without having to stop and worry about our mom. I could remind myself once again how unfair it was that my brothers seemed to have abandoned her, and left me and my sister to do all of the worrying and care-giving. But I realized maybe it was a good thing after all when I saw that he posted a Facebook status after Christmas, saying how he used to look forward to the holidays, but now he’s just glad they are over. It sunk in that for months, I have failed to think for a moment what it might be like to be in his shoes, and that maybe there was more to his absence than sheer selfishness.

Before I could talk myself out of it, before I could make a list of reasons that I might regret it, I sent him a text, telling him I felt the same way. I said I hated how divided our family had become, that Christmas just wasn’t the same joyful holiday I used to see it as, and that I knew I bore some of the responsibility for the huge mess that is now our family.

My mind was riddled with thoughts about how hurt I was going to be if he fired back at me in anger, or worse, didn’t respond at all. I tried to hang on to the hope that even if nothing changed as far as his involvement with Mom, I could work together with him to repair our relationship. And to my surprise, he responded immediately. My phone dinged over and over as he sent buckets of words back to me, expressing his sorrow over being at odds with me and my family. Words of regret and explanation poured back and forth between us, and tears were shed on both sides of the conversation. We finally made plans for his family to come spend an evening at my house in the near future.

I cannot begin to describe, or even really understand the relief I’m feeling. We are a long ways from repairing all of the damage that has been done, and it’s quite likely that some of the family divisions may never be healed. But I’m trying not to focus on the what-ifs. I just know that I’m only beginning to understand the real meaning of forgiveness, and hoping that I can keep myself from falling back into old habits. I don’t know what it all means, especially because I still feel a lot of resentment toward my youngest brother and can’t see taking any first steps with him at this point. Not to mention, I’m pretty sure my sister is going to be hurt and angry with me, since it has been “us against them” for such a long time.

I guess I’m just allowing myself to be okay with baby steps at this point, and trying not to feel pressured to figure it all out right away. I only know that I haven’t liked myself very much lately. I’m reminded again that “they” are right when they say that withholding forgiveness hurts no one but myself. I’m tired of opening my eyes every morning and my first thoughts being dark. I just think there’s a lot that needs to change inside of me before I can find the sense of peace that I seem to forever be chasing.

So here I am, at the beginning of another year, setting goals and hoping hopes that I can get something right in whatever number of days I have ahead of me. I wish my resolutions could be as simple as improving my diet, exercising more, or getting more organized. I still need to work on those things, but I have to dig a little deeper than that this year. And maybe one of these days I’ll find that the world has become just a little bit better place.

On relationships … and forgiveness

A couple of years ago, I wrote on a few occasions about a work associate who simply rubbed me the wrong way. She is someone I’ve worked with since I started my career with our company more than twelve years ago. I may have referred to her as “Babs” at one point.

Babs is a woman with a strong personality. She rarely exhibits any lack of confidence, and she loves to be in charge, whether or not her role formally requires it, and whether or not her knowledge and experience warrant it. A couple of years ago, I was working closely with Babs. We were peers … equals … and yet she seemed to always be hovering over me, checking my work, trying to boss me around. And she was putting me over the edge.

People sometimes tell me I’m “too nice.” I sometimes think, “If you could only hear some of the thoughts in my head…” And deep down, I recognize that my reluctance to engage in confrontation may contribute to the label of nice. My feelings toward Babs sometimes bordered on hatred, but I would never let it show. And I don’t regret that. I’ve never wanted to be that person. A coworker actually voiced similar feelings to someone who matters, and it didn’t do her any favors.

I remember writing about my frustrations with Babs. It was the only way I could find to relieve the pressure. I’m sure I wrote some things that were not very kind or fair. And while even at the time, I may have recognized that Babs’ behavior likely resulted from a sense of insecurity, I seemed unwilling to admit that my own reaction to her probably came from a similar place.

Fast-forward a couple of years. I got my wish. There was a reorganization in our division, and Babs was the only member of our small team to find herself in unfamiliar territory. The rest of us were quietly thrilled. Her physical location barely changed. Her desk was still located just a few feet and one cubicle wall away. But it was enough to take the pressure off. She may have still been “right there,” but she no longer had any stake in what we did or how we did it.

I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that inside, I felt a sense of pure GLEE over the relocation of Babs. She was in a new department, one composed of people who had valuable skills, but whom management wasn’t quite sure how to use just yet. I was fairly certain that Babs’ inability to “play nice” with others contributed to her move. She is smart and savvy, but she had created noticeable divisions in our department.

This new department seemed at first, a placeholder. The insecurity that I’d previously suspected in Babs visibly surfaced. She stopped by my desk on many occasions to lament her situation, saying she felt like she’d been outcast. She expressed that she was no longer sure of herself or how she fit in. She worried about her new role, and the fact that she had no idea what she was doing. She half-joked many times that she was sure someone would catch on and she would soon be fired. Any sense of pity I may have felt for her was quickly overshadowed by the idea that she somehow had this coming.

It’s been some time now since that reorganization. New business has found its way to Babs’ department, and the team is moving full steam ahead. Babs seems to have found her footing and she’s busy. So busy that days go by without a single word from her. I have a much greater sense of peace in my role ever since, and I know that I have flourished in the change.

Yesterday, Babs stopped by, not for business reasons, but to show me a photo she’d had printed on canvas. We both have an interest in photography and she knew I’d appreciate it. The canvas print was beautiful, and we marveled over it together. And a realization hit me like a frying pan to the head.

I was actually enjoying my conversation with Babs. I realized that although we may not mix well when working closely together, I might actually be able to  like her. Had our relationship started on another foot, who knows how different things might be today?

The whole thing taught me a bit about myself. That maybe people can change. Or that maybe I have to be willing to look at someone from another angle to appreciate who they really are and why they behave the way they do. I was so certain of who Babs was, but maybe she only looked the way she did to me, because of where I was standing. I considered that the things that bother me most about a person might just be a small reflection of the flaws I don’t want to admit to in my own self.

And maybe a whole lot of this is simply a willingness to set aside judgment and forgive a little.

This gives me hope for other relationships in my life that are less than what I’d like them to be. Maybe nothing changes today. Probably not tomorrow either. But someday. There is always hope.