I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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Did we punch and hammer and jab each other as children, thrashing and rambling, a large family in a small house filled with brothers and one older sister with bony fists and no reluctance to use them?
Did we use implements like long whippy maple branches and Mom’s bamboo garden poles and Dad’s old sagging tennis rackets and redolent pieces of oozy lumber stolen from the new house going up down the block and brick chips and sharp-edged asbestos shingles torn off the garage roof as ammunition and weaponry with which to battle and joust with brothers and occasionally the Murphy boys next door, each one burlier and angrier and Irisher than the next?
Did we occasionally use snowballs, meticulously packed as tight as possible and then placed carefully in the freezer for days, as stony ammunition despite the cold hard fact that said snowballs should have been registered with the United Nations, especially when one of us saved a few until June and hammered the Murphy boys in the most lopsided and glorious victory of all time on our street?
Did our mother actually say more than once, You’ll put your eye out! until finally we bought individual glass eyes at a yard sale from an ophthalmologist and faked a terrific raucous brawl so that our mother came running only to find her sons roaring about their lost eyes, which were bouncing and rolling freely on the linoleum floor, which caused our blessed mother to shriek, which caused our calm muscular father to come running, which caused his sons to spend many hours in penitential labor and the mastermind to go to confession?
Did we play football so hard in the yard that more than once a helmet went flying and more than once a finger was broken and one time tempers flared such that a picket from the old red fence was used for assault and battery?
Did we play basketball so intently and furiously that a nose was broken and eyeglasses were broken and teeth were chipped and skin was abraded and fouls were delivered with violent intent, which was repaid in full in the fullness of time?
Did we many times wrestle our oldest and tallest brother to the ground, often using our youngest brother as a missile aimed at his feet to knock him off balance, and once the tree was toppled, jump upon him with cheerful violent alacrity, and pile on with as much emphasis as humanly possible, sometimes leaping off the couch to cannonball down upon him, while ignoring the plaintive murmur of our youngest brother trapped at the bottom of the pile, mewling like a kitten?
Did we occasionally reach or lunge across the table during meals to commit crimes upon the bodies of our brothers, even though Dad had said, and he meant it, too, that the next boy who reached across the table would lose a finger?
We did all these things and more, and you would think the accumulated violence would have bred dislike or bitterness or vengeful urges, but I report with amazement that it did not. Yes, the trundle of years and the fading of memory are at play. Yes, we are all much older and slower and have lost the language of pummel and lash. Yes, we have all witnessed and endured pain and loss in such doses that the wounds of our brotherly years seem minor now compared to the larger darkness.
But there is something else here. Maybe, in some strange way I don’t understand, we used our hands to say the things we didn’t have the words to say. That is what I have tried to do with my hands and my words this morning, brothers. Remember the crash of bodies, and the grapple in the grass, and the laughing pile on the rug, for that was the thrum of our love.
So let us now arise, and haul our youngest brother out from the bottom of the pile by his thin flailing legs, and restore him to a semblance of his usual shape, and proceed to the dinner table, chaffing and shouldering, and it will always be this moment somehow, brothers, just before we eat, just before the tide of time rises, in the instant of silence just before Dad says grace.