Tuesday, September 28, 2010
When he first got out of the car I could see a difference. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, totally missed the new glasses I'd been gently (mostly) urging him to get for months, thinking maybe he'd lost weight.
"You look great." And I meant it. He couldn't return the compliment (I'd just returned from yoga), which left my words to fill the air with more meaning than if they'd merely been part of a social exchange.
I'd been looking forward to Mark's visit all month, knowing it would involve deep conversation, new spiritual insights and some great antiquing. Plus, because he's currently single, when he's here I get to spoil him a bit, to cook favorite foods, to provide space and sanctuary. And as our relationship has grown in the three years since he returned from prison, I've come to love my brother, and feel his love for me, in ways I didn't know were possible.
The last decade of his life has been difficult. Difficult isn't the right word, but I'm not sure what word to use to describe the devastation wrought by decisions he made borne from deeply buried wounds - decisions that cost him everything that mattered, and that sent him to prison for three years. Decisions he takes complete responsibility for, but that are not him. And the man he's become on the other side is someone with the power to heal a family, someone with a clear and certain connection to God, someone whose suffering has burned away all but light and truth.
In some ways the time since his release has been the most challenging of all. While he never ever complains or indulges in self-pity, the losses and restrictions are a reality that hurt. Freedom from the walls of prison did not restore his life to its former abundance. Yet he only looks forward. He's built a respectable life. He laughs. He loves.
I've marveled at his ability to be grateful and to allow God to work through him. He's often my evidence of a loving God - one who understands, forgives and creates wealth from poverty. And the news Mark brought with him last weekend, the reason for the looking great, took that evidence to a whole new level.
Once I showered and we got settled at my kitchen table with coffee, and apples, cheese and bread between us, he started pulling items from the box sitting on the bay window behind him. The first was a small cardboard cube, which I needed his help to open, and which turned out to be a mug. A pretty ordinary mug, as mugs go, except this one had writing on the side: Angelwings Antiques.
And I knew, without him saying a word, that I was witnessing another miracle. He directed me to look inside the mug, where I found business cards that confirmed what my heart had just told me. My brother Mark, who has lost so much, had claimed a lifelong dream. He is now an antique dealer.
Our mutual love of antiques and the treasure hunt aspect of antiquing has provided hours of pleasurable wanderings during our visits together. It was one such adventure that provided the miracle of my yellow vase last summer. Recently Mark went beyond the store level of shopping and began going to auctions and playing in eBay. I mentioned once that he should consider setting up a booth in an antique mall so he could fund his habit. As his big sister, I'd like to take credit for the nudge that was the catalyst for this dream-come-true. But I know, while I get to participate in the miracle, it wasn't my hand that guided him to this path.
Besides the mug and the revelation, Mark had brought several other gifts, treasures from his hunting chosen just for me. Several new pieces for my collection of yellow American pottery. A sweet snuff bottle with flowers and a dragonfly. "I saw the dragonfly and thought of you." That statement a huge gift in itself.
Then two boxes brought in from his car. "You have to choose one. You might hate me after this, because you have to choose." As I opened the first, I knew from the shape under the paper protection what I was about to uncover. Last summer Mark and I discovered lemonade sets - beautiful old pitchers and mugs designed specifically for the service of lemonade. Like wooden screen doors and the scent of lilacs, these porcelain vessels evoke all that's best about summer and a Pollyanna past that was slower, easier, gentler. They're also very hard to find, and usually far beyond the budget of a casual collector of memory-bearing artifacts.
So the fact that there were not one, but two sets in front of me, that in itself seemed something of a miracle. It turned out the choice was easy. One set had been more loved, and its colors were deeper and richer - the purples and sky blues that speak soaring and possibility to me always. While he was very careful to allow me a clear choice, I'm pretty sure Mark's preference was for the other set. The one that is his now, a visual reminder we'll share that lemonade will always be the outcome when a heart is clear and open and surrendered.