Saturday, May 23, 2009

Conversations With my Brother


My brother, Mike, has written himself into the role of the black sheep of the family. I am not sure that he is any blacker than anyone else…and we all have our black moments. He is living in Spain at the moment, and it is only in the last six months or so that he has got in touch. Conversations over the facebook chat line are less than satisfactory, but better than nothing.

There are a couple of conversations that other people have had with Mike that stand out in my mind. One was with my youngest sister. I can’t remember the circumstances that led up to the conversation, only that it took place in a pub and was liberally watered with a lot of alcohol! It was a conversation, that when she related it to me, I was jealous of. They talked about all sorts of things, and he shared with her his thoughts on so many of the events of our childhood that my sister was too young to remember. They talked in particular about our experiences in an orphanage. We weren’t orphans. Our dad had died and mum was really unwell and we had been shelved out to friends and relatives before that, and I think this was the only solution for keeping the kids together. It wasn’t a good time in our lives and it wasn’t the most loving or supportive of environments. He talked about the nuns picking on Linda, and saying quite cruel things. It might have been about her weight. Mike told Sharon how angry he felt because he thought Linda to be beautiful. I remember thinking as Sharon related the conversation that I wanted to ask, “What did he say about me? Did he think I was beautiful?”

The second remarkable conversation Mike had was with my mum just before her left for Spain. Actually, I am not even sure this one happened or whether I dreamed it did. He hated public school. He couldn’t see that Mum wanted him to have the best opportunity possible, but that she wanted him out of the house. Rejection, was how he perceived it and it coloured so much of what happened to the rest of his life. He blamed her for so much going wrong. Anyway, he went to visit her, his “last” visit before he broke off ties with the rest of the family. He wanted her forgiveness. He was sorry for all the trouble that he had been, or for all the bad mouthing, for being “a disappointment”, not just to her, but to my dad when he had been alive. I don’t know whether he would have expressed his change of heart in Christian terms, but God was at work. Some of the first people that Mike met in Spain were Christians.

I am envious of those kinds of heart to heart, masks off, kind of conversations. I wouldn’t say that I haven’t had them.

I must have been in my late teens, or early twenties, just recently come to faith. I had the Roman Catholic background, but it wasn’t until I was eighteen that my faith had become personal and real. Late one night Mike came into the room and knelt beside the bed. He took my hand and said he needed to talk. He wasn’t entirely sober. He wanted to know about the peace that had come into my life. So I told him about Jesus and about salvation. We talked for a while exchanging views about very intimate things. I felt awkward and totally inadequate for the task and I gave myself a hard time because the conversation hadn’t led to his salvation! I don’t think he even remembered the conversation the next day.

The other conversation I remember was much later, before I moved to Inverness, after I had returned from teaching abroad. That would put it somewhere between 1987 and 1989. It might actually have been as late as 1993 when I was recovering from a deep vein thrombosis. There was a healing ministry in the local town hall. It was an international speaker. I invited Mike to come along. He had been suffering from a bad back for a while and I told him that if he came Jesus would heal him. I expected his usual guffaws at the mention of God. His reply surprised me.

“I know God will touch me, and that He can heal me...but I don’t want God to touch me. I will have to change my life if He does, and I don’t know if I want to change.”

There is a more recent conversation with Mike. It took place last night about half past nine. It is not a conversation that I am jealous of. My brother, Richard, phoned him and I guess that some time today I will also be phoning. Mike never made it to my sister’s funeral. For most of my family is was not expected that he would come, but I hoped he would and had been gently nagging him. It turned out that the “wouldn’t come” was “couldn’t come”. He was due to go into hospital having been diagnosed with two tumours. There has been a biopsy done, and it turns out that they are both malignant. The word “cancer” has been tossed into the diagnosis and he has started radiotherapy treatment. Mike, on the phone last night was very positive. He was thinking in terms of success and the cancer going into remission. I just wonder when he finally put the phone down, whether he really felt so positive.

Me? Am I positive and thinking in terms of success? I am still trying to right my boat after my sister Linda died last month. I didn’t think that a storm would brew a second time so swiftly.

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