the blessing (and wound) of brothers

“Brothers!” He calls after them. As if he lives in a monastery, my mom laughs.

“Brothers, wait up!”

All day long the sacred word is intoned. That is the brothers’ room, the brothers’ school.

Not just from the youngest looking up. The oldest gathers his confreres with a single summons: “Brothers! Time for dinner!”

All three rush – sliding laughing elbowing – into the dining room, jockeying for position in whatever they’ve declared is the best seat in the house tonight.

End result is always the same. One crows with delight at victory, one stews with simmering resentment, one shrugs that he’ll get his way tomorrow.

(When the squabbling is settled, someone will declare that once the baby is old enough, then All Four Brothers will sit on the bench together.)

“We are the Best Brothers Brigade,” they sang all summer before the smallest was born.

For weeks they walked around the house together, skinny arms draped over three sets of shoulders, smiling as they’d turn corners to let each brother pass.

“First bro first, second bro second, third bro third.”

They recite their pledge when they pile into the backseat, scuffle for turns at the sink, or dish out dessert after dinner. The Fraternal Order of Brotherhood.

Not fair! My middle-child heart wants to protest. Take turns! Why shouldn’t the littlest go first? Or the second-born?

And they do, sometimes. But mostly they take pleasure in their order of things. The grin on the third’s face when the older two assure him, “Third bro third,” says everything. He is knighted by the honor they bestow.

Brothers made this way, and brothers will follow.

I do not understand it. I am the mother. Sister, daughter, wife. Woman.

Each day I am schooled in the way of brotherhood: more complex than the stereotypes dismiss, more mysterious than the surface shows.

Loyal arms round each other’s shoulders slip into headlocks, horse collaring each other amid cackles and yelps. “Fifteen yard penalty!” I holler after them, but they are already on to the next.

The Brothers are an entity all their own.

With each boy that entered our family, their brother bond grew, too. An esprit de corps born before my eyes.

Bigger families grow this gift together: inside jokes, shared history, secret alliances.

Such fellowship is not limited to siblings, of course. We find it from friends, cousins, teammates, neighbors. Whatever defines our pack.

But there is something magical about watching it thrive among a band of brothers.

Surely their feelings for each other will wax and wane like the moon. I have no illusions; I have seen brothers drift apart, hurt each other bitterly, disagree and disdain the one they use to laugh with in the dark.

No childhood guarantees a certain adulthood.

But the blessing of brothers holds all of this. Far from the breezy ease of #blessed or the prosperity gospel claiming all good gifts as our doing or deserving. Blessing is bigger: communal, bestowed, unearned. And even the gift casts a dark shadow.

Remember the roots. The word blessing springs from a twisted trunk, but one branch winds back along the French blesser: to wound.

Blood on the altar was what once made holy.  (So too, today.)

Whatever we love will hurt us. Spouses and siblings, friends and family. Every relationship teaches us this hard truth.

Part of the wound of blessing is what we do to each other. The blows that only the closest can deal.

Close your eyes and the memories spring to mind, burned on the back of the skull. Scars from siblings, parents. Words from a beloved that sliced so deep we can forgive, perhaps, but never quite forget.

Even loving God brings its own wounds.

Jacob wrestled all night with God. Exhausted in the morning, he asked for a blessing and got a new name. He limped forever because of that holy fight.

(And that startling story of walking wounded came in the midst of battling brothers.)

When I watch these four boys I birthed into the world, I think: they will hurt each other, they will hurt me, and never has there been a family where it was not so.

Yet they remain blessing: holy in their humanness, astonishing in the tender love they can offer each other.

A blessing to me and a blessing to each other. Gift and wound and the holiness of together.

2 thoughts on “the blessing (and wound) of brothers

  1. Just beautiful. I, too, am puzzled by the behaviors of the brothers under my roof. The hugs that become half Nelsons and noogies are foreign to me, but the fighting isn’t foreign and teaching them about forgiveness by being the first one to apologize when I mess up is something I never learned by example. We are breaking cycles in this home by the grace of God and I can only pray that the wounds we bless each other with are more readily acknowledged and more easily healed. ❤️

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