I called your home phone, but there was no answer. And when I called your cell, your message box was full.
I originally meant to have a little fun this morning at your expense. I was going to clown you.
I was digging through photo albums searching for those pictures you took when you came down that time, and we threw you an impromptu birthday party. Do you remember those? You were wearing a suede vest with no shirt underneath, and it was about a hundred degrees outside, and everyone was laughing and trying to make sense of it all.
But then, as I was looking, a stack of old photographs of our grandparents and many of our aunts and uncles cascaded to the floor. And as I picked them up, it suddenly dawned on me that many of them are no longer with us.
Our grandparents are gone. Our grandparents’ sisters and brothers are gone except for only one or two. And our parents and aunts and uncles are aging quickly.
Not until Grandmother’s funeral did I notice how completely mother and father had grayed. Only then did I notice how slowly they moved, how they needed assistance to sit down, to get up, to move about.
Only then did I notice our eldest uncle’s hands. As he sat there in the wheelchair, his body ravaged by a stroke, my eyes were drawn to his hands. And those long beautiful black fingers that had gained mastery over the piano keyboard were drawn and gnarled into unrecognizable, unusable hooks. The deep baritone voice that had entertained so many for so long was now reduced to a whisper. And that sharp mind and wit struggled to find an answer to the most mundane of questions.
And shamefully I turned away. Shamefully, I tried to avoid him. But my heart was broken, and it was all that I could do to keep from breaking down, to keep from weeping like a child who has been cast away.
The seasons are quickly changing. And the protecting canopy of the leaves in the uppermost branches is changing colors, drying up and falling away. And soon, sooner perhaps than I would like to imagine, we will have to assume their position, their roles, at the very top of the tree, and this frightens me. This causes me untold anxiety.
How can I ever be the men our grandfathers were? How can I ever be the men our uncles are? The awesomeness of the responsibility of trying to replace them, of trying to become them is daunting indeed.
Right before Grandmother passed, she told me that soon I would have to stop running from reality. She told me than soon I would have to stop hiding in books. Soon I would have to deal with something other than characters I invented and could easily manipulate, plots and storylines over which I had complete control.
She told me that as the eldest child, as the eldest grandson, soon I would have to return home and assume my place of leadership within the family, and she chastised me for having left you with the responsibility for so long.
But you were always the more courageous brother. You were always the stronger brother. While I fled from trial, from tribulation, you faced it head on. While I always sought compromise, you stood steadfast.
But Grandmother was right. Soon I must return home. I feel the tug and I hear the call wresting me from my place of security.
I now know what I have to do, but I feel I lack the courage, the strength to proceed. And I am frightened and filled with great trepidation. Please lend me your strength, your courage so that I might complete this task.
And please, brother, just call me when you get this message. I have tried desperately to get in touch with you all morning, and I cannot. And I really need to speak to you right now.