Today is my brother’s birthday. He has been my best friend since I can remember understanding the concept. As a toddler, he delighted himself in knocking over my block towers and turning the lights off when I was in the bathroom. Thus were sown the seeds for our future blood rivalry, which blossomed into outright warfare on the basketball court during our middle school years. I was taller and stronger, but Gabe was quicker and had a better jumpshot. Once, he hit the game-winning shot and bolted for the house before he even saw it go in — he knew I was going to beat him up for winning if it did (it did, but he didn’t make it to the house).
My brother and I have always complemented one another in terms of personality and gifting. I learned how to read at 3 years old and was the more naturally gifted student, but I was also lazy and sporadic. When Gabe started school, he would get up early and start his schoolwork before breakfast (we were homeschooled) and keep plodding along until it was all done. That consistency is a character trait that has marked him ever since.
In high school, we both got into music and began learning to play instruments. Gabe picked up drums and then began to master bass. I decided to learn to play guitar, picking up a lot in a hurry. Gabe asked me to teach him, so I taught him a few chords and let him go. He ended up practicing every spare moment he had. By the end of high school, he had completely surpassed me and was recording his own music. He has kept right on going for the last eight years. Today, he is a professional-level guitarist who has recorded on studio albums.
In high school, another thing happened to my brother that has profoundly shaped his life. He contracted chronic fatigue that to this day has never been diagnosed. He has woken up every day since about age 15 as tired as most of us are right before we go to bed. His condition has never been diagnosed or cured. Some people pose the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” My brother inhabits that question. It hasn’t made him bitter, though. It has opened up deep wells of compassion within him instead. Since moving to the States, he has always been involved in underprivileged kids’ lives, first working at a Boys and Girls Club in North Carolina, then volunteering in a large urban youth group in Oregon, and most recently serving as a “Big Brother” to a fatherless 9-year-old boy. His pain has made him softer, not harder.
So here’s to my brother Gabe, who inspires me to live a life of consistency and compassion, of letting the question shape my life into an answer that could never be given only in words.