Thursday, June 21, 2012

Li'l Brudder

My Li’l Brudder just left for the Army.

 (For backstory on the “Li’l Brudder” thing, see here. Li'l Brudder is a one-legged puppy with the heart of a champion who makes everyone cry because he's just such a trooper.  And if you’re not familiar with Homestar Runner, you should be.  Maybe it’s a little seven years ago, but I love it.)

This whole thing came up kind of suddenly.  My brother is not your typical enlistee – he’s a little older (24), has a college degree, and before deciding to take on this challenge, was working on getting his Masters’ Degree in education.   His life seemed pretty well set.  Like me, he’d gone to Ohio State, which is in our backyard (literally-- Ohio State’s property backs up to my parents’ house).   Unlike me, he seems to like the suburb we grew up in.   While I wanted to run far, far away and never look back (let’s just say, it’s an odd place and was never a great “fit” for me), he embraced the community.  Throughout college and after, he coached swimming in Upper Arlington, the suburb we grew up in, and was really quite good at it.  He even worked at the local country club!  He had a long-term girlfriend who also seemed content in Columbus.  I just assumed he was going to get his masters’ degree, get married, get a teaching and coaching job in Upper Arlington, and live happily ever after.  The path was straight and well-tread, and he just seemed to be on his way.

And then, last fall, suddenly he no longer had the girlfriend and was talking to Army recruiters.  

At first, I assumed the Army idea was a rebound thing.   I think we all had that fear.  It seemed like a drastic change in his life course, too sudden of a decision for someone who’d contentedly stayed within a 2 square mile radius his entire life.  He assured us over and over that this had nothing to do with the breakup, it was just something he’d always dreamed of doing.  Something he needed to do.  I remained skeptical, but over the course of months, I started to believe him, and now I’m fully on board.

In reality, we shouldn’t have been surprised.  My brother was practically born to be in the military.   I don’t have kids, but I’ve met some, and I understand they often go through a stage where they want to pick out their own clothes.  Overriding those selections, I am told, is often a battle not worth fighting.  My brother definitely went through that phase—and his personal decision was to dress like a G.I. Joe.  He had pants that looked like fatigues, little camouflage shorts, little camouflage t-shirts.  It sounds a little weird and black trenchcoat-y, but he was pretty cute and a very amiable little kid, so he pulled it off well.   

And we were surprised??
 And even aside from the costumes, he’s always had the right mentality.  He is, quite simply, a good little soldier.  He always has been.   Coaches absolutely loved him because he did exactly what was asked of him, never more, never less, didn’t ask questions, didn’t complain.  And it worked.  Despite never growing beyond 5’8” (very short for top-level swimming), he was an excellent swimmer who got that way because he worked his ass off and did everything right.  And where he really excelled was in relays—he’d pull out ridiculously fast splits that didn’t seem within his ability, all because he had heart and three teammates at the end of the pool counting on him.

Really, my brother’s got the personality for the Army.  And, growing up, he always said he wanted to be in the military.  But it was post-9/11 and the news from the Middle East was scary and we all just told him to shut his mouth and go to college.   So this decision's been on his mind for his entire life.  It’s just the U-turn he took to get there that threw us all off.

But having thought about this for a while, the suddenness is really what’s most inspiring about this whole venture.  My brother was on a predictable path.  He was doing the right things to have a perfectly respectable life…. a house in the suburbs, a teaching degree, probably the requisite 2.5 children and dog sooner rather than later.   But, looking back, his path lacked passion or adventure.   He’ll admit as much.  And instead of wallowing in it, or becoming apathethic, he changed it.  

My sister, me, and our Li'l Brudder
I won’t tell him, not in person anyway (I am, of course, still the older and much wiser sibling), but his decision to join the Army had more than a little influence on me and my decision to make the fairly drastic change in my own career and life.   My Li’l Brudder showed me that our narratives can be changed.  It takes courage and little effort, but there’s no need to keep dutifully following the well-tread path if it’s not heading in the direction that you want to go. 

So, last weekend I headed to Ohio to say good-bye.  I’m really, really bad at good-byes and emotional statements, and I’m not sure I did the best job of letting my brother know just how proud of him I am.  Not just for serving his country, but for having the courage to walk away from a very comfortable existence and return to the dream he’s had since he was little.   He’s inspired me beyond that which he’ll ever know (at least for the next 10 weeks, until he regains access to the internet and reads this).  I worry a little bit about him (basic training is scary!) but I shouldn’t. He was born for this.

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