"There is no future without forgiveness." Desmond Tutu
I sent off a little note to my brother today. Yeah, so what? People send off notes to siblings and other people all the time. Other people maybe, but siblings? In my history, that was another thing. In fact I once started a sentence with a group of women on a boat, "My brother, whom I do not know is dead or alive...."
He is, I am happy to report, alive. He is retired and living in a warm, sunny place. He has grown kids, and grands and great-grands. A whole passel of them. He has had sadness too. In the almost twenty years since we last spoke he has lost a son and a son-in-law.
I knew about the son, my nephew. In these connected days you can learn things about people and their lives without having to be "in contact" of course, and every now and again I would search the inter-webs for family names just to see what might be there. A few months ago I was on such an expedition, and I read on another nephew's Facebook page that his brother had died. I followed the trail to his obituary and found he was 57 when he died, and reading between the lines, I think there may have been some circumstances that made his early passing even sadder.
It hit me hard, that little piece of information about my nephew dying. I was kind of amazed by how strongly I felt the sadness and grief for someone I have not seen or had contact with since he was in his twenties, and for a whole piece of my family that I had been disconnected from since the 90's.
That disconnect had not settled easily in my soul for many years. Randomly, I would find my brother on my mind. In the early years it was anger I felt. Righteous anger and indignation towards him for his "bad behavior" concerning our mother. Our opinions about where and how she should be living and cared for in her later years had differed and I of course was right and he was wrong. It got horribly out of control, as these things do, words were said, feelings were hurt, and all contact ceased. In some ways I had "won" the thing, she came here to live, I had wonderful and precious time with her until her death. But it came at a very high price. We both lost my brother.
As time passed my anger and indignation had moved to an uneasy sense that this was probably not as clear cut as it seemed at the time, and that he was not the only person who had engaged in some "bad behavior" at that time. Perhaps there had been a little revisionist history on my part, and I was not quite as innocent, nor were my motives as pure as I had liked to believe. I thought about trying to reach out to him many times, but then I would let fear creep in, or retreat behind the "fact" that I was, of course, right! And justified! Wasn't I? After all, I was not defending myself, but protecting my beloved mother.
But over time, even that began to grow pretty thin and I could see it for the excuse it was. Now time (a LOT of time) was passing and neither of us were getting any younger. And then I saw that obituary. He has lost a son, just like my mom had ultimately ended up losing both of hers at the time this whole nasty thing had started.
I started to notice that finally, my compassion was becoming bigger than my anger and fear. But still, I hesitated. At this point I still did not know if my brother was even still alive. What if I searched for him only to find that he, too, was gone? Would that guilt just be too much to bear? That final resistance was finally overcome largely because I was called to preach on forgiveness at my church's women's retreat. In preparing, along with the Scripture reading (Matt 6:5-15), I revisited the book Amish Grace and read Desmond Tutu's powerful book on forgiveness. At the retreat we talked about forgiveness, I heard other's stories of things forgiven and unforgiven and pondered my own. A few weeks after the retreat I asked my husband, the search-engine genius, to see if he could find an address for my brother. He did, and after I carried it around for a few days, I wrote a short letter of amends to him, admitting that I had felt justified at the time of our disconnect, and owning that I now saw that this was hurtful, that I regretted my actions and was sorry for that and the all that resulted. I sent it off with hope but no real expectation of a response.
About two weeks later, there appeared an envelope in the mail with a return address that I recognized as his. I took a deep breath and opened it to find a short but gracious note from him. He noted the saying that we grow "too soon old and too late smart" and commented that this accounts for a lot of the mistakes we make when we are young. He shared a little news with me, the grands and greats, and the losses. I wept with joy and relief to hear from him, to be forgiven with those simple words, that little note. It has been a long time coming.
So I dropped my brother a little note yesterday. I shared a little more about my life, marriage, a lovely step-daughter, no grands yet, but hoping someday, my job. I expressed my sadness that he had lost those two young men in his life and wished him and the rest of his family, my family, well.