I am going to shine a light on self awareness, or self consciousness. Some would call it self centeredness. In some cases they’re right. However, my concern is that without a healthy self awareness you cannot feel joy. And I find so many joyless people. I wonder if they have missed something.
That is why I have included this picture of two boys taken in 1951. Can you discover the more selfish natured boy in this first picture? My guess is that you will point to the boy on the left. He is into his own space, his own time, his own thing.
A few years later we see the same two boys. The selfish boy is now on the right in the Radio Flyer wagon. He is still into himself except for one small detail. He is reaching out to feel the soft fur of the kitty in the wagon next to him. He seems to be enjoying it.
Life and Death
The truth I have to tell you now is going to hurt. The extrovert in these pictures died unexpectedly in 1981, at the age of 34. The selfish boy is still alive. That’s me. I am the selfish boy. There are those who would say death took the wrong person. I would say that death always takes the wrong person.
My brother and I grew up opposites in every way. He was the outgoing one. I was the introvert. He was the cowboy. I was the crybaby. He despised me and bullied me and sometimes protected me. After high school he volunteered to fight in Vietnam. I dodged the draft as a conscientious objector.
After the war, we were very competitive. I wanted to beat him, humiliate him, rise above him, get revenge for all the childhood humiliation. True to my selfish nature.
The Last Photograph
In the spring of 1977, during a deeply introspective (selfish) period of my life, I received a profound insight. This knowledge had the power to bury the competition between us. It changed our relationship forever:
I, me, the selfish one, was able to see that my brother and I were not opposites after all. We were very much alike. Both of us were hiding a deep fear. (Subject of a future blog post.) That profound revelation allowed me— the nakedly selfish one— to reach across the gulf between us, like touching the kitty in the wagon.
The happy ending is, my brother reached back to me. For the last four years of his life, we became brothers the way brothers were meant to be.
I hope you are OK with the fact that I feel joy over this memory. Not my brother’s death, of course, but his life. Four years of appreciation between two once antagonistic brothers is unheard of in this world. It is far more valuable than climbing Mount Everest, or conquering the known world.
I could have missed my day of opportunity. But I didn’t. And I still feel joy just thinking about it. This is the selfish side of my selfless action— there was something in it for me. There always is.
One Step Forward
I suggest a simple exercise. Think about the birth order in your family and how it affects you today. Even if you are an only child, an adopted child, a second, third, fourth or twelfth child— your place in the family has special elements that make you wonderful. But you must see the wonder. You must feel the kitty in the wagon.
A word of caution. When you see how wonderful you are, remember, no one else sees you that way. Respect their beliefs and feelings. This is about you, and you are worth it. The journey to the river is a long one.
To be continued…
(This post is drawn from my book, War Dance, first released with the title The Last Photograph, a hardback published by Thomas Nelson, 1994. Now out of print. I have a very few collectors copies remaining for sale on this site. See side panel above. I intend to publish an updated version, War Dance as an e-book soon. It will contain never before revealed details of my brother’s post traumatic stress syndrome.)
This is beautiful. I was drawn in by the photos and then by the invitation to look closer, to get to know the characters better. What you shared next was a powerful reminder that if we are willing to look deep within and without, we can find that common denominator that removes fear, allows us to reach out with acceptance and love, and see that which was lost restored. We get lost in self so easily. Thank you for sharing some of your life story so that we can learn from it and find the fullness in ours.
Could not have said it better myself. I wasn’t sure anyone would appreciate this piece. Thanks, Judy.
Wow! I have just discovered your blogs. This one is amazing! I enjoy seeing the passion and love that you have for life and for your brother. I have a similar story. My brother was 13 months older than me and I enjoyed being close to him the last 2 1/2 years of his life. My passion was to communicate with my brother and enjoy his presence. That was taken away for awhile. I must have your book with more detail. It has struck the love in my heart for my brother and all of my family. Thanks so much for your transparency!
Hi Stephen, lLast year I read your 3 books via Open Library. Initially was just grab-bagging for titles that sounded like a Western, e.g., Riders of the Long Trail. Got excited -hot diggity- by your details of the ride down the Shenandoah Valley, (I did college there and live nearby), your story of early Methodist circuit riders (Westerns and frontier histories mention them), your obvious Christian spirit and by golly, talent! Eagerly did I search for more books. Alas, only 2 more. But, but…The Last Photograph! How can I say it? Haunting! Esquisite! Painful. Redemptive! I’ve made a copy of the cover photo. Even, coincidentally, was I viewing it again this morning. Now I learn you have/will expand it! Maybe there will be a bit more about your work at AZ juvenile center? Or about your struggles in life? Or even, did pathologists ever ID the cause of your brother’s freak infection? I’d like to end with my impression between you and your brother growing up – that you grew wider before you could grow up whereas he grew up before he began (?) to grow wide. And I think growing wide is quiet or invisible. —-Wish I could say it better. I admired both of you, and your parents, very much. Thank you ! ! ! for sharing your writing talent.