I never really paid much attention to that apocryphal phrase, or when I did I quickly dismissed it as some kind of slogan that's not only of no personal interest, but which I associate with a kind of appalling hyper-macho sentiment.
I feel differently right now. The saying makes sense, and is directly applicable to where I find myself at this particular moment. It's even a source of comfort.
As the old year's faded and the new one's blossomed, I've faced three distinct and serious challenges. They've collectively forced me to confront death, the meaning of family, and my professional identity. The three challenges are different and distinct, but they've also reinforced and played off each other in my mind.
I've been writing here about the death. I mostly knew Amy when she was a shy but sparkle-eyed pre-schooler and kindergartener with the kind of captivating smile that only a child of that age can genuinely display. She was the youngest, smallest, and quietest of the five children I drove each day to school, two of whom were her older siblings, and the other two of whom were my own son and daughter.
Amy had grown up considerably when I last saw her, when Jeanne and I enjoyed a late summer dinner with her parents. She was tall and beautiful, with an outgoing presence and unmistakable sense of confidence. She was looking forward to her transfer from the nursing program at St Louis University after her sophomore year, to the program at Boston College, and Jeanne was making arrangements to provide her with some of the required texts.
Now, she's gone, and the whole nursing profession has lost a promising colleague who would have made such a tremendous difference in countless peoples' lives.
I haven't spoken of my family, but it's a pretty simple matter: I have an older brother who's been relentlessly abusive my entire life. The reasons are his, as is the sickness they stem from. His daughter, who was born within five days of my son, and whose early birthdays we celebrated with joint parties, is getting married at the end of this month. My three other siblings and their spouses are going to the wedding, but Jeanne and I did not even receive the engagement announcement last summer. We only learned about it while visiting my oldest brother, when we saw the photo card lying on his coffee table.
It pains me to be so coldly excluded from a rare family celebration, but the actions of my brother and sister-in-law are even more despicable. They've drawn our respective children into the emotional cesspool of his unresolved anger and their shared petty grievances.
I wonder what their conversation with my niece was like, as they drew up the guest list? I wonder what her brother, my nephew, is thinking, knowing that his "coolest," though infrequently-seen, uncle won't be there? And since there are few secrets in the age of Facebook, I've had to answer my own kids' questions, "Hey, Natalie's engaged. What's up with the wedding?"
I tracked down the lucky bridegroom - one of my sisters read his name to me over the phone from her copy of the invitation, though she never commented on why I didn't have my own. I located his parents and spoke with his mother, who assured me that she'd forward my gift as soon as she received it. I checked the online bank balance today, and learned that Natalie and Louis have cashed our gift.
One small victory, and a sign that good faith can still prevail.