A few weeks ago I went to Wesleyan University’s graduation and reunion weekend. A man visiting for his 60th reunion (class of 1951) said to me, “You know, I don’t really remember my own graduation.”
“Good grief, of course not,” I thought, doing the math in my head.
Then he continued, “I remember every detail of my older brother’s years here, though.”
Now this I easily believed. The events of my own brother’s life, five years ahead of mine, have always appeared crisply to me, and remained fresh, too. It’s no trouble for me to recall the necklace he wore to his high school graduation, the words he spoke when he first met his college roommate, or the name of the girl whose hand he held in sixth grade, when I was six.
When Lincoln and his fiancée Hilary asked me to perform their wedding ceremony — that is, to “officiate” as a layperson at their Jewish wedding (they had a real rabbi sign the ketubah and marriage license) — my mother asked me if I was surprised at this honor. “No,” I said without thinking.
Well, yes — yes, I was tremendously surprised when they first mentioned it, and I will admit here that I was tremendously flattered, and excited, too. (I had to feign gravity and modesty the whole time.) But once I knew that they were considering officiants outside of the clergy, I wasn’t surprised. Not because I think I’m so great. But because after all these years, I know he does. I recently summarized this to a few friends most concisely: “We have a very hard time remembering what is bad about the other person,” I said.
“That is the opposite definition from my siblinghood,” one responded. I know. Not all siblings love each other. Some siblings who love each other very much find it very, very easy to see what is bad about the other person. Lincoln and I have a lucky connection. I generally credit him, because he established a positive relationship when I was barely a person to ponder. The sizable age gap and gender difference also ensured that we never had to fight for space.
When a youngest-child friend of mine had her first niece, she told her mom, “I love this baby so much. I couldn’t possibly love my own first in this way.” Her mom explained, “Your heart grows.” Hopefully the intensity of the simcha of dancing at my brother’s wedding (which is something like simcha multiplied by nachas compounded with adulation times the Nirvana Wedding Constant) won’t prevent me from fitting my own wedding memories into my mind when the time comes. But honestly it’s hard to imagine.
Anna Schnur-Fishman is an administrator at the Norman Mailer Center and Writers Colony. She recently co-authored the children’s book Tashlich at Turtle Rock.