The Star

When I was a little girl, I wondered where the stars went on rainy nights.  I thought there was some kind of weather switch that turned on their lights when the skies were clear, and shut them off when drops of rain pattered against the window of my upstairs bedroom.  I remember being quite surprised when I realized that the stars remained where they were, but were just temporarily blocked by the churning clouds that brought rain and snow.

Last week, I was reminded of this as I watched my brother Kevin.  I was at the hospital with my mother when he strode in.  Kevin is hard to miss.  He is huge- 6’5”, with large shoulders, huge hands and a huger smile.  When he arrived, I had just begun to give my mother a sponge bath, and rather than staying outside until we were finished, he rolled up his sleeves to help.

I watched as my younger brother gently and carefully helped bathe and dry my mother, and as he brought her to the bathroom and back.  She leaned on him, confident that his strength would compensate for her weakness and he responded with a grace and ease that left no room for embarrassment or humiliation.  He enveloped her shaking hand in his firm one, and supported her weight as we got her settled again in her bed.

I had never seen this side of my brother.  I know his training as a firefighter/EMT has taught him how to help the sick and injured.  But I had never seen how gentle, how kind, how graceful he is.  He knew when to speak, when to smile, and when to move.  His silent strength filled the room, easing my mother’s discomfort and my anxiety.

Initially, I had been frustrated that the hospital staff had not been as responsive to my mother’s needs as I would have liked.  I know that they were doing the best they could with the staff they had, but I was angry that she had to wait so long for responses to her calls for help.  I was frustrated that nobody had taken the time to help clean her body and comb her hair.  I wanted to point out that she was not just the woman in Room 4030, but she was somebody’s mother, somebody’s teacher, somebody’s friend.

But now, I see that I was given an opportunity to see my brother at his best.  Had my mother’s needs been met by a stranger on the fourth floor, I would not have observed how my brother shines. For a brief moment, the dark was split by his light and I was privileged to witness it. I should have known all along, the star had always been there, just waiting for the clouds to part so he could fill the dark with his silver light. 

Thank you, Kevin.  You are a shining star, and I love you.

Bridging the Gap

Kevin is a gentle giant.  I look across the table at his massive hands curled around a mug of steaming tea, and remember how thin and frail he was as after a tonsillectomy when he was five.  Now he is huge and strong- six feet, five inches, with broad shoulders and those hands- I mean, how does he manage fine motor tasks with those hands?

He has dropped by, quite unexpectedly.  I can’t remember the last time he visited.  Perhaps it was when he helped me move here, but that was a few years ago.

We are of the same blood.  We shared a house with one bathroom, two parents, eight siblings and more pets that we could count.  Kevin always jumped up to greet me when I came home from college.  I sewed costumes for him out of old band uniforms when he performed in his middle school performance of “Oliver!”  I remember him as a toddler and as a teen, and I remember how he went off to the Coast Guard as a round-faced boy and returned as a lean, capable man.

We share a love for music and an undying devotion to our children.  It is curious that our kids are so much alike in many ways.  His Emily is a social activist at fifteen, sleeping on the State House lawn to heighten awareness for the homeless.  My Abby slept in a cardboard box for Invisible Children. His Eli lets his home work slide, but aces every exam.  My Gabriel did the same thing when he was the same age.

Like our brother Rick, Kevin is a firefighter.  The night I was in labor with Gabriel, he sprained his ankle while fighting a house fire.  I remember the nurse telling me that my brother was in the hospital’s emergency room.  For a moment I was fully distracted from my own pain, afraid he was badly injured.  It was with much relief that I found out it was only his ankle.  In the end, he would heal from his injury before I did from my cesarean section.

 He says he’s never really had a close call, and is grateful for that.  When I ask him if he ever gets scared, he evenly holds my gaze and simply says, “No.  I don’t get scared.  I sometimes back out when it gets too dangerous, but I don’t get scared.”

I cannot relate to this.  The closest I get to fire is throwing a lit match toward a gas pilot from a three-foot distance.  I get dizzy if I look down the stairwell from the second floor.  I can’t imagine how frightening it would be to be inside a burning building, or running up a ladder to climb on a burning roof.   But Kevin doesn’t lie.  He trusts in his training, and he doesn’t get scared.

Kevin’s faith is as obvious as his size.  He doesn’t speak about it very much, but he follows a true and dedicated path.  True to an old nickname, he is a lighthouse- a towering lamp, silently illuminating a path for those who seek refuge from life’s storms.

It occurs to me that my brother and I don’t see each other nearly enough. If we are not careful, life has a way of separating us from the ones we love.  We’ve not talked, just the two of us, in way too long. In many ways, he is a stranger to me. The sharp realization of this cuts into my heart and suddenly, my eyes sting with tears. 

I take a deep breath, blink a few times, and pour us another cup of tea.  We sit at the table and catch up; our talk punctuated by Kevin’s deep and full laughter.  Like me, he laughs easily and often.  I’m reminded of something Victor Borge once said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”  Maybe it’s been too long, and maybe we’ve been too far apart, but it’ll be okay.  Love and laughter will bridge us together once again.

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