In the very truest sense, today is a day that defines me. Today is my birthday. But today, like every birthday since I was 7 years old – my thoughts aren’t about my birthday – they’re about my brother, Jim.
Let me forewarn you, you might not like this story so much – because it’s not necessarily the most uplifting. But it’s reality – and a humbling realization about life. So here we go…
I am the youngest of five children in my family – the youngest by eight years. These days that age gap isn’t necessarily a big deal…but growing up the gap seemed monumental.
I was a definite whoops. “The best mistake I ever made,” is the way my Dad describes me. Some people cringe when they hear that. I don’t -- in fact, I think it’s pure and sweet. I have never doubted that my parents love me – my Dad is just being honest, and I appreciate that. Anyhow, the point is that with anywhere from eight to eleven years between my siblings and me, even though I am part of a big family, I grew up kind of like an only child. While my brothers and sister were off working, or dating, or doing high school and college stuff – I was going to grade school. So from my little kid perspective, the world pretty much revolved around me.
The Story Goes
So flash back to my seventh birthday -- it was the last day of school, and the first night of the church Carnival. I had spent all day peeking out the classroom windows at the rides that were set up in fields behind the school, and I had convinced myself that I was going to be brave enough to go on the enormous ferris wheel with the “cages” that spun around.
As soon as my Dad got home from work, we would all head down to the Carnival and stay there until way past bedtime. I was beside myself with anticipation. It was the perfect way to spend my birthday!
I remember playing with some dolls on the floor of my bedroom when I heard a car pull into our driveway and start honking its horn like crazy. I jumped up to peer out the window to see what was going on, and I saw my Mom walk out of the house to the car. Seconds later she and my brother, Jim, came racing into the house. I didn’t think much of it at the time and went back to playing with my dolls, but then I heard my Mom’s voice coming from downstairs. She wasn’t yelling – but I could tell she was upset about something.
I made my way downstairs to see what was going on, and though I don’t remember the details exactly, I remember seeing my brother sitting at the table with a blood-stained white towel wrapped around his hand, and my Mom was hustling around the kitchen and putting ice in a bag, yelling at Jim to keep his hand in the air.
She told me I needed to go across the street where my sister, Karen, was babysitting. She had to take Jim to the hospital and I was to stay with Karen until she came home. I had no idea what was happening, and the only words that came out of my 7-year old mouth were, “What about the Carnival?”
“Not tonight,” Mom told me. Jim just looked at me and said, “Sorry Lolly.” In the blink of an eye they were pulling out of the driveway, and I walked across the street with tears in my eyes. I'm embarrassed to say, I wasn’t crying for Jim. I was seven years old, and devastated.
A few hours later Mom called from the hospital to tell us that Jim was going to be ok. He had severed his finger in a freak accident while riding his bike. He had almost lost his finger completely, but fortunately they got there quickly and the doctors were able to restore it perfectly. Mom knew it was still going to be a few hours until they got home, so she told me where I could find my birthday present, and I opened it while I was on the phone with her. It was the “Busy Lizzy” doll that I had been wishing for, and I played with it until it was time for bed.
I don’t know if we ever made it to the Carnival that year, but I remember when we picked Jim up at the hospital a day or two later. He felt so bad for “spoiling my birthday” that he asked my parents to go to the store and get a present that he could give me when we came to get him. It was a diving mask with a snorkel and flippers – and he promised me that he’d teach me how to use the snorkel as soon as he could go in the water. What a good big brother he was (and still is). When I should have been doing stuff for him, there he was thinking of me.
It’s been 37 years since that freak accident, but as sure as the sun rises, Jim is the very first person I think of every year on my birthday. I guess it is just one of those “moments” that is permanently etched in my memory.
But remember how I said that I think we keep the memory in our subconscious until we’re ready to learn the lesson? Well today I think I was ready -- because for the first time since that accident I cried at the memory -- but this time I didn't crying about missed Carnivals. This time I cried for all the times when I've selfishly thought that I was the center of the universe. And for the times when I should have cared more, or done more, or given more to people who had less. And mostly I cried for the people who will never know what it’s like to love and be loved in a family like mine. I am truly blessed.
It may have taken me 37 years to figure it out, but Jim, thanks for giving me the best gift ever -- a gift that no amount of money could ever buy. Now whenever you’re ready to teach me how to snorkel, I'm game.
This has nothing to do with the story...but it's probably the funniest e-card I've ever gotten for my birthday.