This morning I woke up at 4:30 to my cat intermittently howling and conversationally “talking” as she wandered around outside my closed bedroom door trying to get a response, find a friend, or annoy the hell out of me…take your pick. Even after getting up and spraying her with the “bad kitty” water bottle three times, she continued to come back to my door time and again, throwing out little meows just in case this time I decided to open the door and let her in to cuddle instead. (Which I might have done if I didn’t think it would positively reinforce her horrific middle of the night yowling.) As a result, I feel like death today. It’s the kind of tired that makes my eyes feel like sandpaper and the back of my head feel numb. Apparently, it also tends to push my emotions into overdrive. Which isn’t ideal for interacting with people in any sort of normal fashion, but is terrific for writing. So here I sit, telling you what I did between the hours of 4:30 and 7 a.m.
I did what most people would do in the wee hours of the morning when they can’t sleep- I browsed around on my phone. And I discovered a couple of posts that my brother had written which detailed many, many escapades from our childhood… Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly portrayed in the most favorable light. Now, to his credit, he did clearly state disclaimers that these accounts were in no way meant to humiliate or upset his baby sister; I, of course, still read nothing but negativity and glossed right over the good stuff (of which, in retrospect, there was touchingly plenty). But my tired, 4:30-in-the-morning-brain could only discern this terrible portrait of me as a malicious, scheming, selfish, bratty child who apparently broke stuff, beat up on her big brother, and always made him take the fall whenever we got in trouble. When I read his words in that light, it hurt. In that gut-punch kind of way.
My first instinct (developed from years and years of probably not dealing with difficult emotional things very well) was to ignore it and just shut him out. To make a point? To punish him? I’m not sure. Maybe both. I was hurt and tired and not thinking super clearly. My second instinct was to defend myself and set the record straight. Which I did… but then we both felt bad. He realized the impact his words had on me and he immediately took the posts down. The thing is, I know deep down that he honestly never meant to make me sad or hurt my feelings- he was only trying to narrate in a satirical, Bill Bryson sort of way the story of our early years. (To be honest, there’s some damn good fodder there.) But with me, emotions tend to trump reason, particularly when I’m tired or cranky (or hungry, but that’s another bag of worms).
Sometimes I struggle to look past my emotions and not immediately react, but instead open my eyes to see something more objectively. I humbly realized when I went back and re-read his words, as well as his tear-inducing apology post entitled “Lessons My Sister Taught Me,” all the ways in which I have actually had a positive impact on his life. And vice versa. The thing is, in addition to once upon a time being the kid brother and sister who chased each other around the house, slamming doors and getting in trouble, we have also been the adult brother and sister who have been through all the crap together. He has literally known me through all of the stages of my life. We have been through divorces- our parents’, then mine, then eventually his. We have been through tragic deaths of loved ones, including some of his best childhood friends. We have been through a handful of shitty arguments (typically on holidays, always under abnormally stressful situations). And we have made it out the other side, even when there were times when we were both madder than hell and pretty convinced we might not speak to each other for awhile, if ever again.
The impact his words had on me this morning was fleeting but real. The impact he has had on my life is much greater. And it made me think.
We all impact the people in our lives to one degree or another, some days more profoundly than others. If you misstep, take a step back and try again. If you screw up and hurt someone, even if unintentionally, own it. It makes it better almost 100% of the time– trust me. And above all, try to remember that what you say and do absolutely affects the ones around you– sometimes positively, and other times negatively–even if it might not be obvious to you at first glance. And finally, don’t overlook those who have impacted you…after all, we’re all in this together.
*I chose this photo I took of Playa Carrillo, a beach close to our family’s home in Costa Rica, that is near and dear to my heart.