In less than a month I’ll mark my 68th birthday. A month later, my brother will mark his 67th. Like many boys who grew up so close in age, we’ve had times of greater and lesser companionship over the years. He has never resided more than 200 kilometers from where we were born. I wandered far afield. For most of our many years there has been either a continent or an ocean between the places that we called home. Now it’s only half-a-continent. 

We took different paths in life. I sometimes felt that he judged me negatively because of the one took, and I KNOW that I often judged him both harshly and unfairly for the path he chose. I hope that I’ve gotten over that. I’m pretty sure that he has. Anyway, we’re each too old to let much of it matter any more. 


Last week I visited him, just for lunch. He picked me up at a train station where I’d arrived. I mentioned how much better he looked than the last time I’d seen him, 3 years ago, and he agreed. He looked better, he said, but was actually worse. In the last year he’d had two strokes and radiation therapy for cancer. Though I recall his mention of “impending cancer treatment” when we last spoke on the phone (about a year ago), he had neither phoned nor written anything about the process or its results since. The strokes were news to me. 

By Podengo – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16535266

For about ten years during my overseas life I sent him a letter every week. Yes, it was the same letter that I sent to other relatives, but it was a “reaching out”, and it went regularly. A friend I’d known in grad school told me about one of her undergraduate school classmates whose parents were missionaries in West Africa. This classmate eventually asked his parents to stop sending him “holy talk” letters, so I was careful not to do that to anybody. I wrote about our family, about each kid, and about life in Taiwan. As much religion as might find its way into a letter was the benediction, “Peace” at the end. Nonetheless, I got no response, neither then nor since my retirement in the USA. (I’ve taken up weekly writing again, but now it goes by email.) So it was a surprise to hear tender words about our being “hermanos” from him. 

Our mother left Minnesota for California before her 20th birthday. She was the first of the 9 children in her family to venture out of state. Eventually a sister and a brother followed to Los Angeles, and two other sisters “married out of state” (one to Missouri and another to Texas). But the brothers “back home” were always inviting visits, and welcoming them when they happened. Mom’s comment (not uttered to her brothers) was that the road went both ways. 

I’ll keep writing, and continue not expecting responses or news. As for being “hermanos” in much other than shared DNA, I’ll keep wondering. 

David Alexander resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.