Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Stick together.

"I was next!"

"No you weren't!"

"Why are you cheating?"

"I'm not cheating!"

"You are!"

Their voices escalated from down the hall. I sunk my face into my hand and groaned. I wasn't in the mood.

"Mom!"  I took a big drag of air and tried to ignore it. It was repeated with more urgency. "MOM!

Next came a cacophony of clattering plastic. I'd attempted to sit at my kitchen table doing nothing enough times to know the exact sound of a PlayStation video hand control device falling to a hardwood floor. I squeezed my eyes tight and pressed my lips together.  Next came the feet stomping in my direction.

"Mom? Isaiah was supposed to --"

"No. No, he's exaggerating," Isaiah protested before his brother could finish his sentence.

I swung my head from side to side between them. Zachary was now blinking back mad tears and fuming. Isaiah held the plastic controller behind his back so that Zack couldn't reach it. They were at a stand still. And I hadn't even uttered a word of mediation.

And wasn't going to.

Clasping my hands in front of my face, I looked straight ahead into the space between them. "Listen," I said. "You will argue sometimes. You'll frustrate one another, too. But no matter what, I just need you to always remember what I say about brothers." Both boys stared at the floor, still fuming. I cleared my throat hard, "What do brothers do?"

The answer came as a mumble. They'd uttered that response so many times that me asking to have their words repeated had far more to do with me just wanting them to speak up than not hearing. I pressed them in a firm voice. "What do brothers do?"

"Stick together," they replied in low unison.

"Solve this. You solve it. And if you don't, nobody gets to play." I turned back to my computer and let them know I was done. Because I was.

Last week at Grady, I took care of a man with an advanced cancer. He was up in age. His parents had passed several years back. The ex-wife he'd had remotely was no longer in is life and they'd never had children. He'd had a few strokes that left him with labile cognitive function. And his health issues were significant and active enough to warrant somebody thinking about him and advocating for him.

Yeah. That's what he needed.

Again--there was no spouse. No common law boo wringing hands at the bedside in woeful misery. No parents filled with that unconditional parental love and no aunties or uncles who'd doted on him since he was a child. All there was was one person: His brother.

Now. This man's brother was a grown man with a full life. He had a wife and adult kids and grandkids, too. He had a business that he ran and a church where he deaconed and a square of lawn in front of both his house and his church that called for him to mow it on a weekly basis. But the other thing he had was a brother.

Sure did.

He'd come in with a work uniform on. Soiled with a full day's work and with this little hint of masculine mustiness that would waft into my nostrils whenever he moved. Sometimes he'd wipe his forehead with handkerchief or just the back of his hand. Or rub his eyes with the heels of his palm. But no matter what, you could count on him seeing about his brother.


Brother was only the next-of-kin for my patient. And since some days my patient was with it but on most other days he wasn't, we needed someone to step in. We did. And let me tell you--Brother was there.

"I'm sorry to keep putting so much on you," I said to him the other day.

"It's okay. I just hate I can't get up here no sooner. My wife would've come for me but 'cept she got some hip troubles and ain't driving right now. So I can't get here 'til I get off."

"I understand."

"He look a little better to me today." Now he was dabbing that same hankie on his brother's brow.

"He always seems to perk up when you come in." I realized that may have sounded negative so I corrected myself. "He does look to be a little better."

We sat and talked some more. Brother asked hard questions and I answered to the best of my ability. We discussed next steps and what he thought would best honor his brother's wishes. This was a day that my patient wasn't flying on both wings mentally. That was happening more and more frequently.

Brother signed a few papers and placed the pen down in front of him. A big yawn escaped his lips, causing his body to let out a tiny shudder at the end.

"I can tell you're tired."

"It's okay. That's my brother."

I squinted my eyes at him and twisted my mouth. "I have sons."


"Yes, sir. Two of them. Sixteen months apart."

"They fight?" Brother laughed at his question. "I know they do. You always do when you close in age like that."

I laughed. "Pretty much."

"See, our mama always told us this: 'Take care of your family, take care of your mama and your daddy, and take care of each other. I don't care what you got going on. You stay connected to your peoples.' So I hear my mama straight in my ear sometimes. I be tired but I come on down here."

"I love that."

"I'm all he got."

I didn't know what to say do that so I said nothing. Then I finally said, "He's blessed."

"We both blessed."

We sat in silence for a few moments. Brother stood up and put his soiled trucker's hat back on his head. This time he addressed my patient. "Okay then, Junior. We'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"Okay," my patient replied. Brother reached down to give him a tiny hug in the bed. Then he gave one more of those big yawns. He waved goodbye to me and before I knew it he was gone.

The whole way home I thought about them. I thought about a mother infusing this idea into her children of staying united. Letting no weapon formed against them as siblings prosper.


That night over dinner, I shared with my boys about this story. With privacy protected, I explained that my sick patient had no one to look out for him in this whole world except his brother. And that his brother worked all day long and came anyway.

"I'd come for you." Zack looked at his brother. His face was serious.

"Me, too. I'd come for you, too."

And that was that.

I felt a tiny heave in my chest. Followed by a shiver like the one Brother had. Something about my boys saying those affirmations to one another had given me chills.


I've probably had to ask that same rhetorical question about what brothers do some fifty times since then. But after watching those two men fulfill that duty to one another, I knew that it was an important seed to keep on planting.

I'm learning day by day that connectedness requires intention. It involves forgiveness and redemption and resilience and commitment. And it especially calls for us to fight for the relationships we value the most.

The mama who raised those two men did something right. She made love and loyalty a rule. And no--sometimes it doesn't work. But what I do know is that the kind of sacrifice I witnessed between those two brothers didn't just happen overnight.

No it did not.

Do brothers fight? Sure. And will brothers get on one another's nerves? For sure. But as for me and my house? They will stick together--and stay connected. If I can help it, at least.

"I don't care what you got going on. You stay connected to your peoples." 

Damn right.

Happy Tuesday.

Friday, June 8, 2018

On Anthony Bourdain.

“Life is complicated. It’s filled with nuance. It’s unsatisfying. If I believe in anything, it is doubt. The root cause of all life’s problems is looking for a simple fucking answer.”

- Anthony Bourdain (1956 - 2018)

I remember watching this dude on TV and thinking, “Damn. He seems cooler than the other side of the pillow.” I dug the way he treated people the same regardless of their position. He listened to the short order cook in a Bangkok dive with just as much interest as he did Barack Obama. I always thought that was dope.


I met him once during those years when I used to do segments with CNN. He was good and famous by then. And though I don’t watch a ton of television, I’d seen his show more than enough times to know that fan-girling over him wouldn't be necessary. I was waiting for my segment and he walked through the room where I was. When he saw me, he was exactly the non-diva that I imagined he'd be. He paused, shook my hand and said, “Hey. Anthony.” And I nodded and said my name in return. He looked to be in a hurry but I said I liked the show. Because I did like the show. He stopped, looked at me, smiled and said, “Hey thanks.” Then he pointed at my hair and said, “Joining the silver fox club, huh? Welcome!” We both laughed and he walked out. And that was the time I met Anthony Bourdain.


That was like 5 years ago. I had just started letting my grey hair come in so him pointing it out was pretty damn observant. And he wasn’t being even remotely fresh. He just saw me. And acknowledged me. Which was cool.

Turns out I was right. That dude really was cooler than the other side of the pillow. I’m glad he noticed people and lived so voraciously. I’m glad he got to break bread with people all over the world and that he looked at me not through me when I encountered him that day. I’m sad to hear of his death.

It's cliché to say things like, "No matter how rich or fulfilled you seem, that won't make you happy." So I won't say that. Instead I'll just say that I'm thankful that Mr. Bourdain--I mean, "Anthony"-- shared so much of his world and this world with so many people. And though he lost his life to suicide, I think his life included a lot of joy. I've learned from living and watching and listening that we all have parts unknown. Happiness is an everchanging spectrum. Sometimes light and darkness dwell together. It isn't just one or the other.

And it's complicated.

Thinking of every person I know who has ever been affected by suicide. I know this has been a tough week. You’re all in my thoughts, okay? I mean that.

Happy Friday. And rest well, my fellow silver fox.