It’s the eve of my forty-eighth birthday. This is the last day I’ll be the same age my big brother David was when he died — and, tomorrow, I’ll be older than he ever got to be.
When your sibling is already 12 at the time of your birth, and you are forever looking up, trying to catch up, this feels spectacularly wrong. How can I be older than my older brother? How can I have caught up and surpassed him? It doesn’t compute.
Outliving David gives me a kind of survivors’ guilt. For years, I’ve had a why him and not me feeling about his death, but now that he and I have experienced equal spans of time on this earth, I sense I am both especially blessed, and also somewhat burdened.
Getting to have even one year more than him feels like an enormous gift — and something that would be a sin to waste. As my therapist reminded me this week, I am never good at letting myself slide, and I don’t think this bonus time is going to make it any easier.
Mary Oliver’s lines from her poem “The Summer Day“ encourage and daunt me simultaneously:
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
I want to be my best self. I want to accomplish things that matter. I want David to be proud of me. I want me to be proud of me.
I’m already middle aged, and have regrets. Yet, here I am. Miraculously, and arbitrarily.
It’s a gorgeous early summer evening and I’m out on my pretty wrap-around porch. The birds are still chattering and fluttering and mating. Squirrels are foraging in the green grass of the lawn. Clouds float lazily Eastward.
They all know what to do, how to live, instinctually, without thinking about it. I get to decide my course. I have to. How delightful and terrifying at the same time.
I want to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, but I am no Thoreau. Neither am I my athletic, brilliant, adventurous big brother. Still, tomorrow is a brand new day, and a fresh unexplored age.
I hope I can do it justice.