I’m sitting in my hotel room in Munich watching the stars twinkle in a clear, 5a.m. sky.
It’s been early to bed and early to rise since I got here, which could be jet lag or just the effects of cramming so much into our full days of sights and seeings and adventurings.
We’ve run large parts of the city by the River Isar. Been to the 1972 Olympic Village and Marienplatz and more Christkindlemarkts than we can count. We watched the glockenspiel show at the plaza, 10 minutes of bells and figures swirling around the high tower of the cathedral’s clock. And we’ve walked and walked and walked.
And I’ve tried to take it all in. Through the eyes of a traveler and the eyes of a myself.
These are very different sets of eyes; the traveler appreciates all the culture and architecture and history, takes it for what it is, loves the stories and traditions told.
But myself keeps asking questions of a larger scope. Like who decides history? And why are there always so many historic statues of men, as if no other gender or people group contributed? And how do we know the great men we’re seeing so many statues of, were in fact great men?
Do we remember people as we wanted them to be, rewrite the pages of the past to suit our needs, or remember them as they were?
It’s occurred to me as I’ve walked the streets of this Bavarian capital, stared up at the Roman architecture, studied these stone and bronze and marble archives of the history of this city; that I have become an archivist too in a sense. The one tasked, by name of “sister,” with helping keep my brother’s memory alive.
I like to think I remember my brother as he was. Not some idealized version as I wished him. But as a whole person with light and dark, shabby and bright, beautiful and horribly bumpy.
This weekend after meeting my brother’s friends, I realize that when it comes to people’s history, the privilege of friendship vs. the truth of family and sibling-hood is that you choose your friends but you don’t choose your family.
Therefore it is more likely that the sum of a friendship is usually overwhelmingly positive, while the sum of a family relationship is love, bumps and all.
My brother’s friends knew a different version of him then I did; some is the same; some of the different can be chalked up to the role of friend vs. sister; some of the different is because he told them things that weren’t entirely true. Nothing too big or harmful, just small things that I can see helped him feel like he was fitting in, feigning interests more theirs than his in an attempt to be better accepted.
Like being more “mostly vegetarian” than he was (he inhaled meat). Or more artistic than he really had an interest (pretty sure bro hadn’t picked up a paint brush since grade school). Or drinking wheatgrass every day (I almost laughed out loud at this one and swear I could see Brent shrugging his shoulders, winking, and grinning mischievously in my mind’s eye).
Small things, little things that came out in our conversations. I didn’t correct the misconceptions, I figure Brent had a hard enough time fitting in, being accepted for himself. Some people aren’t very safe being themselves in this world, he was one of them.
He was the kid not invited to birthday parties, not included in social events, laughed at in elementary school, bullied in jr. high. He went from overweight to anorexic in high school and finally found acceptance.
Except it wasn’t real. We all know that social acceptance that is given because of how we look, because we conformed to the standards, because we changed to fit the mold is never real. Never substantial. Never based on the acceptance of our real self, but a projected image of who we think others want us to be.
By adulthood, he had a chip on his shoulder miles wide that bristled and bled and bellowed at any perceived slight which even hinted at rejection. I’ve said before I believe he had a mild, undiagnosed Aspergers, and he just couldn’t do emotions.
The older we got the more he floundered and drowned in the complexity of adult relationships, and so he remained single with a very small handful of friends and a mother, father and sister who tried to love as best we could in our own ways.
So I figure if he felt he had to mold a little, impress these friends in order to be accepted- even though after meeting them I can see their hearts and know it wasn’t necessary- who am I to change the things he said and change their history?
If they want to believe he was working on being vegan and hand painted computer game cases? So be it.
Because while they didn’t know all things, they still seemed to see the heart of who he was. They knew he was touchy, and quirky, and funny, and unique. That something in him seemed a little damaged and in need of healing. And they seemed to accept all of that; like him for him anyways.
And truth be told, after a very dark season in his life where that chip on his shoulder kept smacking into me and leaving cuts and scrapes, they helped bring my brother back to me. The laughter and acceptance and constant contact and camaraderie they established softened something inside of him, and I saw the difference. Substantially.
So I let the record be what it was. Took their perspective into my own records as one more accounting on who and what his life was, and entirely accurate or not, it was accurate to them. Sometimes history comes down to perceptions and values and what side you’re standing on when the wall tumbles down.
And in the end, I will always be on the side of love.
Today we head to Hohenschwangau; home to Neuschwanstein Castle, the glorious Alps, and numerous crystalline lakes. After all this time in the city, it will be good to head for more open spaces and bigger areas. As amazing as Munich is, concrete can’t exhale and my spirit craves water and sky.
And a little bit more space to take in all the information I’ve seen, heard and done on this trip, organize it into some semblance of order in the archives of my mind so I can write about history. Write about life. Write about humanity.
Write about love. Bumps and all.