After spending some much-needed down & catchup time with my brother on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, I found myself reflecting on our weekend together as I let my mind wander during my jog.
We had planned yesterday afternoon as our “main event,” that being his campus’ Spring Weekend concert. Especially exciting because it was a group we are both fans of, and he & I don’t often have the opportunity to see live music together. A great bonding experience.
That was not what I found myself reflecting on, though. I was struggling as I pushed myself along my route, breathing hard (much work to be done to undo havoc wreaked from 4 months of wayward dieting & exercise), and all of a sudden I felt my heart in my throat, overcome by a profound sadness. What was this sharp pang? I was caught off-guard.
It was heartache. My heart hurt because I had observed, in my 24 hours with him, my brother grappling with the same sort of emotional confusions I have worked for so many years to understand and sort through. The huge (HUGE) difference here, for which I am massively grateful, is that he is acutely aware that drugs and alcohol are not to be self-administered as prescriptive remedies, nor are they for abusing & binging.
Because his moral compass is so finely tuned; so meticulously calibrated. He attends a Jesuit university and adheres to the value system. This is a kid who bows his head to say a quick Grace when we go out for brunch at his favorite Bronx diner. This is a kid who since his semester started in January, has consecutively worked on varying assignments every single day in some capacity (finally taking yesterday off). His diligence & commitment to his purpose are unwavering.
And therein lies the cruelty of being a good person in a bad world: most people don’t understand the altruism of a pure heart. Much less your average coed; even much much less your average coed whose life experience will for the most part have already been financed by the wealth of their upper-class family. These fucking kids…they don’t understand, and they don’t care to understand.
This puts my brother in the uncomfortable position of wanting to be as normal as any other college student while simultaneously battling labels from his peers for electing to crack books instead of beers. I’m immensely proud of the path he’s chosen, and heartbroken by the way I see him ostracized for it.
For example, after spending 3 hours on Friday night rounding out an assignment and prepping for the next one, he suggested we stretch our legs and do some people-watching at the intersection of the popular bar hangouts. At one point on our walk a classmate recognized him and came over to say hi. “Wait…I didn’t know you like, go out.” Of course it wasn’t intended to come off as mean, but the subtext was obvious: you’re a bit of a nerd with not a lot of social clout. Doesn’t matter what the channel is; when you receive that message, it stings.
I saw this pattern emerge in a few other ways throughout the day yesterday, and it stems from the fact that young people habitually operate in cliques — and he did not truly belong to one. It’s so simple: acceptance. That’s all he wants. But when you’re an outlier on the graph of social norms — and this is my wheelhouse — you find yourself constantly frustrated & fighting for a foothold. I was lucky enough to pretty immediately find a group of freethinkers & thought leaders when I arrived at the collegiate chapter of my life, and consequently I have a fraternal support network that has played a crucial role in the path I had to carve in the post-grad world.
So to watch my younger brother navigating the sea of social stressors mostly alone…it hurt. I hurt for him. The objective viewpoint here is that yeah, eventually he’ll figure it out, as everyone does. But subjectively I feel the loneliness that gnaws & leaves you raw. Especially for a kid with such exemplary virtues/values, it pains me to see him somewhat shunned for thinking differently.
I know it’s not my battle; I just wish I could offer more guidance. I suspect this is what being a parent feels like.
At least his brother is still sober & alive to share his own insights.