Friday, April 18

Laugh the All-Embracing

Dear Jacob,

I don't think my brother and I look at all alike.  He got the narrow face and the strong nose and dark eyes from my dad's side of the family, Englishmen with a Native American mix.  I got the round face and the freckles from my mom's side, Scots and Oklahomans. Our features have very little in common save for what we each have left of our hair which is and has always been dark brown.

The deeper and more quiet truth is that in every aspect of our lives we have nothing in common. There's a little piece of faith that might connect at the most middle place and there are memories of about 18 years of living in the same house. I find it fascinating that genetic commonality doesn't play a part in connecting people much at all. There's nothing in your bones that guarantees you'll be known by a person.  Nothing in your pumping heart that truly avows you together.  Relationships are a choice.

Your Dad's brother was adopted out of an Italian American family. Your Dad himself was chosen from a completely different one, his nationality unknown to us. It goes without saying that they have no ancestral connection.  Dad is three years younger than your uncle but he was taller than Doug and everyone else when he was thirteen.  Your uncle could run and dance. Dad skated and flipped off the diving board. They were different in every way -- physically, morally, intellectually.  Yet as they age, their intentional trajectory only brings them closer.

Sometimes when I look at you, I see your dad. Maybe today it's your nose, yesterday the gait of your stride, the depth in your voice when I call you.  I wonder if Dad's mom ever looked at him the way I look at you and tried to see, to imagine, that there was something genetically familiar in his face, the glint of his shiny hair, the way he said a word.  When Sam was around a month, Grandma Lou was holding him in her lap and she just shook her head and said, "I know there's no good reason for it, but right now he really looks like his Grandfather."  I think there's always a desire to see something of yourself in your kids.

Samuel is your Dad's exact likeness.  I've seen it from day one. Benjamin, when his hair is not so shaggy away from his face, is so obviously my child that I shiver.  You were always this puzzling mixture, the specifics of which I could never pin down.  I think your nose is his, but your face might be the shape of mine.  Your skin is clear like Dad's but it browns like someone else's.  And your blue, blue eyes are a complete mystery.  Dad must have had a parent with blue eyes in order for them to be so strong and lovely on you.  I wonder what it's like for you to have a question mark in your heritage.

I see myself in you in other ways though.  There's the music in you that came from me, the years of lessons and theory and practice, the pieces I'd finger on the back of the pew while I stood to sing hymns out of the book.  There's the strength of words; your ability to write them, speak them, use them to your advantage. Words have always been my engine and they are a similar tool for you.  If I could I'd infuse your school with humanities studies instead of math and science because the stories are the things that draw you, the things you want to create, far more than a rocket engine or energy source .

Then there's your humor that infuses me with delight.  For years I wasn't sure if you'd ever quite get there, to that comic place that bonds rather than isolates.  As a young boy, those first jokes you told were so full of effort and yet bereft of satire, but we laughed anyway for the preciousness.  And then last year there was a moment when I laughed with hilarity at something you said and it wasn't sympathizing or stooping; it was real.  Your clever mind was suddenly occupying the same space as mine -- as if you finally found and opened the secret room where all the adults cavort and dance when the children are put to bed.

When we laugh together we tell one another that we belong.  Laughing with others is a ticket into the room of acceptance and grace.  I remember as a teenager gathered around the lockers that I wanted to be caught laughing.  If others saw me laugh they knew I was a member because laughter indicates belonging.  So, I'd open my mouth wider, move my shoulders higher, howl. It's a maneuver everyone uses to make sure they fit. You'll refine it as you age, but the rule of belonging always applies to laughter.

The flip side is that if you refuse to laugh you're the killjoy, the judge, the grinch. The quickest way to clear a room full of friends, kill a conversation at the table, mark yourself as a dissenter is to refuse to laugh when the room is giggling with approval.  It's like jumping out of a gang, violent and quick.  Your silence is a disapproving distance, a strong judgement on each and every one.

I love to laugh, throwing back the head, yelping with surprise.  I used to want to be the funniest person in the room but I'm now content to just be that person's biggest fan.  Truly funny people include others.  Greedy humor tears people down, demands that we all approve when we really don't. What I'm seeing bit by bit is that your true humor is all-embracing, maybe self-effacing, unrehearsed, imperfect. That's what I love the most.  It's most like my own heart.

I think the more you grow, the more we'll connect, the more common ground we'll find.  It doesn't just happen though.  Blood doesn't axiomatically bind.  Relationships are a choice. You can shut them down, or open them up.  Laughter is one way.  Love is the other.

Love, joy, peace. It's like one thing leads to another.  Blood is the element that gives us full permission to love.  There's no question that I do and will love you forever.  We won't always laugh, but I hope that we do because I want you to always know that you belong to me, that you're accepted, you're in the club. Love makes way for laughing joy, makes way for perfect peace and knowing.  We'll get there.  Sometimes we pass right by it on our way.