The problem with my little brother is that he was never really little. You could never really tell that we were 3.5 years apart in age because he practically towered over me by the time he was 3. He would follow me everywhere and insist on doing the things I was doing; I remember one time having to specifically spell with my mom just to get out of the house to go P-L-A-Y while he took a N-A-P.
The kid just wouldn’t stop. And oh, he bugged me. His goofy grin and that big laugh and those big giant nerd glasses he used to wear! Ugh.
But then we both grew up a little and I stopped beating on him (while he kept on pretending like he couldn’t wallop me one good and knock me out cold.) And then there was that time we had to bond together while we weathered a really painful move from Ohio to Maryland; with his ever-patient posture, he listened to me cry everyday in the car on the way to school about how totally unfair my high school life was and I, in turn, listened to him as he verbally processed the intricacies of middle school and the oddness of girls.
We are so very different, he’s a math wizard and I passed math on nothing but a prayer and by the grace of a very lenient pre-calculus teacher (I love you Mrs. S!) In high school, the math teachers saw our last name on their roster and dreaded my brother because surely he was going to be just like me. But when he wasn’t, the math department rejoiced and made sure to tell me all about it whenever they saw me around town. All the same, we bonded over music, a shared love of Wayne’s World and a million other little insignificant things. When I think of all the cool and fun parts of my growing-ups, he is right there in the middle of it.
Then I left for college and talked to him more while I was away than I did when we lived in the same house. It was like I missed him or something.
Because I totally did. But don’t tell him that.
A few years ago, Jamie came home from college with a plan: he was going to join the Navy following graduation. They needed sub nuke engineers and he happens to be a genius so it was a perfect match. While being on a sub 10,000 leagues under the sea sounds like his best life ever, for me, not so much. But I’m proud of him because he’s living out his passions and following his path with such grace and humility even in the midst of some life curveballs that always happen like falling in love with his beautiful wife whom I adore. So much.
I want to be like him when I grow up.
He’s deploying soon and on his way back to his base, he stopped by the house just to play swords and cars with the Little because that’s what the best uncles do. I couldn’t help but look at him and think about all the sacrifices he’ll be making in the next few months and years to afford the Hubs and I the freedom to play swords and cars with the Little any time we want without fear.
Last weekend Jamie got married and during the reception, the Best Man (who also happened to be our dad) was roasting us with embarrassing childhood memories like all dads do. In the middle of his speech he said something I had never really thought about–in all our years growing up together, no matter what Jamie and I got into as kids, my dad knew we were going to be okay because I made sure I took care of him and always looked out for him and he always trusted me to keep him safe.
Now as he gets ready for a deployment in a turbulent, unstable political time the script is flipped: it’s my turn to trust him to keep me safe while he looks out for me (and you and all the people you love). Somehow, my kid brother became my protector and my hero and I am so proud of him and grateful for his service and the service of all the men and women who are doing this every day for people they love and those they have never met. It’s okay if you want to bust out into a chorus of Lee Greenwood’s, “God Bless the USA” right now. I won’t judge you. I’m humming it right along with you.
This holiday as you’re watching the fireworks and eating your steaks (or, as we call it in my house, ” ‘Merica Meat”) take a minute to think about those who are currently serving and those who have served our country. It’s a “be seeing you” for my brother in a few days and a change in how we live our life at home. The Little cannot believe that Uncle JJ gets to sleep on a submarine every night (oh the toddler jealousy!) and it hasn’t quite sunk in for me, either. But we’ll be okay and he’ll be home soon.
Until then, find someone in the service and hug them tight or buy them dinner and thank them for following their passions so you can be free to live yours.