Tuesday, March 24, 2015


The picture over there shows me, standing with my brother, who was on what amounted to his deathbed.

Art was 2 years and 9 months older than I, so I did all the usual younger brother things that you might expect. Whenever Art got to do something worthy of brotherly envy, I knew it'd be about 3 years for me. I had my share of new 3-year-old clothes along the way ... all still nice, of course ... and my performance at school in various venues was subject to the invariable statements like "Now, when your brother ______ (fill in the blank), he always ______ (that blank, too)."

He was also pretty smart. And athletic.  He'd also been Valedictorian of his 8th grade class ... I once heard a teacher exclaim "Art Cleveland's tops in my class", complete with a "whoosh" sound and a gesture which might also accompany a volcanic eruption.  Fortunately for me (I think "Fortunately" is a name God sometimes signs to things when He doesn't want to use His own, for whatever reason..), I was Valedictorian as well, plus I'd been voted A) Boy most likely to succeed; B) Student most likely to succeed; C) Class brain, and; D) Class Baby.

Hey .. gotta take the bitter with the sweet.

At the other end of the spectrum, he was good athletically ... he could outrun mom, for instance ... and he was also popular with the girls. Which realization on his part led to his decision to stop being called "Jimmy" and start answering to "Art". That was actually a bigger deal than it sounds, as he'd been given the name "Arthur James Cleveland, Jr." for 2 specific reasons. One is the obvious, but the other is that the intention was to call him "Jimmy". My dad simply liked the sound of Jimmy & Bobby, and it took a long time for dad to call him the other nickname.

I got saved specifically because I'd heard bombers flying overhead at night, thinking they might be Russian planes coming to bomb Chicago, where we lived. As the USAF Strategic Air Command wasn't open about their operations back in 1947-8, I didn't know. But it did serve the purpose of making me worry about dying, which led to my odd behavior, which led dad to ask me what was wrong, my subsequent explanation, ending with his reminding me what I'd heard in VBS .. that if you believe in Jesus, then you go to Heaven when you died. Instantly, my fear disappeared, and I ran outside to play with my friends.

That apparently didn't happen to Art; he was married in a Unitarian Church, showed no religious interest thereafter, rejected the gospel more than once in various places when I presented it, and was given a Jewish funeral, buried under a tombstone bearing his name in English and Yiddish.

Now for the picture: he died a few days later ... esophageal cancer ... and I had the privilege of sharing at his funeral service, I also did the honors of throwing the first 3 shovels of dirt on his coffin in the grave ("we bury our own") at the cemetery.

I put the picture up, here, for two reasons. One is, as far as showing 2 brothers who love each other, in a place and at a time when that's really important, is always a good thing. Trust me .. if you can read a message there, it really is there.

The other is that it poses the question: what wasn't said? What had we never gotten around to discussing? What subject(s) wouldn't we open? What might I have been afraid to say to him, for which it was too late ... then & there ... to say?

I'm blessed that sitting here, now, thinking back and recalling the time vividly, I can't think of anything I never said to him, that I should have.

I realize I am blessed in that. Not everyone can state that as a truth in their own life. And that is sad. So .. the words to the wise:

You will, in all likelihood, be in this picture one day. Perhaps in the bed, perhaps standing over it. And if you've built up a sizable thesaurus of words you've never said, from either side, chances are pretty good you'll have waited just that much too long.

Don't let that happen. You may be trading the joy of doing what you should have done, for those you love, with the regret that comes with not having done it.

Like I said ... a word to the wise. 


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