The Terrible Distance Between “Not” and “Yet”: On Family, Long-Distance

The following excerpt was taken from the new book by Mockingbird contributor Andrew Taylor-Troutman. The […]

Mockingbird / 8.28.19

The following excerpt was taken from the new book by Mockingbird contributor Andrew Taylor-Troutman. The book is “Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems,” available this month from Torchflame Books. 

There are, of course, many ways to be healthy, happy, and whole. As adults, my brother and I have made different choices about careers and families. I don’t expect him to follow in my footsteps back to North Carolina. But life sprints by in seconds, my children outgrow their shoes seemingly every other month, and I’ll never get the chance to retrace these exact steps with my brother. This spring, my sons have learned to climb trees, play checkers, and swing a baseball bat. It hurts when they beg for the chance to show off their skills to their uncle. I can give them all the popcorn they ask for, but I can’t give them that time. And it’s hard to explain. My sons cannot imagine waking up without seeing their brother.

There is a photograph our father snapped of John and me, just the two of us on the beach when we were about four and six. I am marching across the sand, my eyes forward; John follows, gazing down so that he can step into my footprints. I’m not looking back at him. Perhaps I took it for granted that he was behind me. My younger brother had this photo framed for my college graduation, though he was across that Atlantic Ocean studying abroad in Paris at the time. He had already begun to blaze his own path. Now I look at this framed photo with new eyes. As an adult, have I taken him for granted?

I believe that the mystery of God’s love is that, like free refills, there’s always much more where that came from. But I know that much of what I want, much of what I love, is in limited supply. There is only so much time. Christian theology has the paradoxical concept of the kingdom of heaven as both here and not yet—time is both fulfilled and still to come. I try to remember what poet Tony Hoagland wrote about savoring a certain moment “with all of its muchness.” Moments like a homerun or offerings to Buddha pigeons. Moments like receiving reassurance from a kind stranger or meditating upon an old picture. I keep memories of certain moments with my brother as precious gifts, and I pray that such muchness can carry us safely through the distance.