Remember when I said we should take the time to make our real heroes famous? People who live their life in such a way that they will be remembered when they’re gone-and not just for being really, really pretty, or handsome.
This is for my brother, Johnny. He served in Vietnam and that alone makes him a hero in my eyes. Since he retired from the military he has been at loose ends, I think. He has been spending a lot of time inspecting the world under the twin microscopes of politics and religion. Sigh. We who love him get exasperated because he wants to fix the world and we know it can’t be done-not by one man and not in one lifetime. However, we love him and remind ourselves that, like most of us, he is complicated.
He is also generous to a fault. I’ve been cornered by poor choices, despaired of ever finding my way out, and wondered if there was really a reason to even try. Johnny talked me down off the ledge. He has seen people murdered and mutilated and knew there was no sane reason for it. He carries horrific scenes in his head that flash at inopportune moments; he doesn’t sleep well. But when his daughter calls and needs to talk about her son, her job or her own fears and frustrations, he’s there for her, as he has been her entire life. Never, she once told me, did she fear telling her Dad anything. She knew that no matter what happened in her life, her Dad would be there for her, without judgment. Oh she knew, she laughingly told me once, when she’d done something stupid that he would acknowledge the choice had been poor, but his main concern was-what would she do about it? And whatever she decided, with his help in identifying the choices, she knew he would help her. And now, with her own child, she continues to share with her Dad, my brother, the events of her life. I think that’s a good statement about a man who makes us crazy when he wants to argue about the Religious Right.
I could tell you a lot of stuff about Johnny’s life that has added to his anger at the injustice and cruelty in the world but I’m not going to open up his heart for public view. It isn’t necessary. If people look closely at the things he gets angry about, it says a lot about the man. He hates it when corporations make decisions that add to their bottom line but heap extra work without extra pay on people who are already doing the best they can. He hates it when people look past problems they could fix and wait for a Holy Spirit to fix it for them. He believes fiercely in independence and self-actualization and gets angry when he realizes some people are afraid of all that responsibility.
My brother, Johnny, has helped family members not only by loaning them money (for which he is almost never repaid) but also by offering suggestions when they ask for them. He helped me find a car when I lost my third job in three years, my car breaking down on the same day. I had lost my roommate, the air conditioner in my house broke during a heat wave (I slept in the yard for 2 weeks), and when we were told the company was going into Chapter 11 they also didn’t have our paychecks. I felt my back breaking under the strain of unpaid bills; uncertainty in the future and how the hell was I going to look for another job without a car? Johnny helped me. It wasn’t just the money. He stayed calm about the situation (which was a pretty good trick; Johnny’s famous for getting really worked up about stuff!) he told me I could get through it. His certainty helped me find my own strength. It didn’t happen in a day-I still lost my house, my furniture, my pets…but I managed to keep a tiny bit of sanity and determination and he helped me feed them and make them grow. He helped me help myself.
One of my nieces was sick-really sick-and he planted a garden for her. He went over and worked it regularly even though she had two children and a husband who could have, and should have, helped.
He visited our mother regularly and took her fresh fruit. He fixed things at her house and kept up the yard. There were other children who lived nearby but Johnny was the one my mother counted on to get things done.
He has taken in stray cats and their kittens, taken them to the vet, and found them homes. He has made friends in almost every part of the country and they will all tell you Johnny is exasperating about politics and religion but you will never meet anyone more generous, or kinder. My brother also believes in love. Romantic, flowers and everything love. He is almost naive in his attitude toward it and his heart has been broken more than I believe has been fair. Still, unlike many of us (including me) he believes in love and its power.
We shake our heads because we want Johnny to stop arguing about things we think don’t really matter in the long run. People will always pray for guidance but then won’t take it if it seems like too much trouble. People will always let someone else make their decisions for them and then complain about the results. It seems to be something in human nature. We, as a species, are very sheep like and are easily led. That mindset doesn’t encourage independence. It’s good to have a community attitude but we still need to see our own choices for what they are. Johnny clenches his fists when he realizes most of us aren’t that mature.
We love Johnny and wish he wouldn’t argue so much. Then, when I think about it long enough, I realize we want him to stop making us all so uncomfortable. Be the kind, generous person we know he is – all the time. We want to make him less complicated. But then he wouldn’t be Johnny, would he? And what would that make us? We have a tough time accepting everything about a person and in the end, if you really love someone; you love the whole person, warts and all. No one is one way all the time. That’s TV. Characters on TV always react the way the character is written, we know what they’re going to do or say, and that makes them attractive to us. They’re easy to understand, easy to accept. Maybe that’s one reason people spend so much time in front of that damn box. It’s a whole lot easier than interacting with real people.
And Johnny is a real person. A real, breathing, watching. listening, moving, laughing, talking, yelling, crying, loving person.
I am so lucky to have him in my life. I’m offering this inadequate portrait of my brother because I want the world to know he is out there, and that he has been a part of more than his own life, he has been an active, productive part of the human community.
Thank you, Johnny.