I suppose we never outgrow our tendency to look up. I believe it’s a good thing. True, most of us look up to the wrong things, the wrong images, the wrong people. But looking up is a practice from which we never fully escape; it’s in our DNA. I’ve been reminded of this in a micro-sense with my older brother in town for a couple weeks.
Sean was my constant hero when I was growing up. Oh, there were others – some sports stars, but I’ve always been terribly uncoordinated, and I think we all prefer heroes we have some hope of emulating. I idolized my share of musicians; I’m a passable musician myself, but I knew in the back of my soul that I could only allow myself to become so “musiciany”, for musicians are, by and large, quite an insecure and miserable lot.
Sean was the constant one, the constant hero. We’re told that it’s natural to idolize an older sibling, especially one of the same sex, but lately I’ve been wondering if that sort of idolizing wears off with age for most people. For me, it remained when I ran for ASB treasurer in Junior High, and for my campaign slogan drummed the phrase, “He’s Sean Draeger’s brother”. It remained when I reached high school and attempted to forge my body into a human battering ram so I might revel in a vestige of his football glory. It remained this last year, when Sean was interviewed on an Atlanta news station to describe how his local pizza restaurant was booming, thanks to an influx of raving Falcon’s fans; I shared and shared the web video with a hearty, “See! See! Look what my brother is doing!” So the hero thing doesn’t seem to wear off, not completely.
Sean has always been great at most things. He draws well; he writes well. He illustrated the cover of one of my earliest stories, written when I was ten – the story of a young boy who gets trapped in a refrigerator, then uses a shaken can of root beer to blow the door open and escape. As I recall, the root beer thing was Sean’s idea. He’s always been creative like that.
He grew up listening to music that was about a decade too late. He got me listening to Led Zeppelin before it became fashionable again to like Led Zeppelin, when everybody was crazy for MC Hammer and Bel Biv Devo. I was teased quite a bit in high school for my Zeppelin fixation; people started calling me “Led”. It is common to take our hero mimicry to unhealthy extremes, isn’t it?
When I graduated high school, Sean had already moved out, so I didn’t see him much. He eventually got married and moved to Portland and became a legendary super-chef – legendary to me, anyway. My parents were divorced by this time, and most of us had a hard time speaking to or seeing my father, until he grew sick. We all sort of saw it happening, but it somehow snuck up on us anyway – “Gosh, that flu of his just won’t go away!”, “Yeah, his house is a wreck, but Dad’s always been a slob.”, “His skin only seems a little yellow.” When I woke up to how extreme the illness was becoming – when I saw that distended belly, pregnant with fluid – I drove him to the doctor, who implored us to, “Go directly to the hospital!” (Do not pass go; do not collect 200 dollars…)
That night, in the hospital waiting room, we each languished in a rotten pool of “what if” and “why” and “this isn’t happening”. Sean was there; he’d driven up from Oregon. He took me aside and said, “I’m proud of you. You did something none of us could do. I’m proud of you.” I think my hero saved me a little bit that night. I wished then that it hadn’t been me – that I could have switched places with somebody stronger and smarter and better at knowing how to remain stable when all the stable parts of the world are crumbling. I would have given away anything – any sacred part of myself – not to have been the one who carried the feeble, yellow ghost of a father into the hospital. But it was me. And my brother was proud. So it became OK.
Thanks, Sean, for being a great big brother. I’m proud of you, too.