My brother, although extravagantly talented, has not had an easy life. The intense focus on his amazing piano playing — both from our family and from our community — turned him into a bit of a circus freak. His first marriage was to a South African woman who was not warmly welcomed into our family. The transition out of that marriage into his second marriage was full of drama and difficulty, both emotional and financial.
Yet he has in the past few years undergone a kind of renaissance that warms my soul.
I often imagine what it must have been like for him at his first wedding, a formal church wedding in a faraway country, with nobody from his family present. When he married again a few years ago, it was in Ann Arbor, in a rented room at the J.C.C., with a reception at a local Chinese restaurant. The officiant was a Rabbi who has been a friend of our family for nearly half a century. (He’s the same Rabbi who performed my sisters’ marriages, and my own.) I sang “Widmung” with my dad accompanying, and when I looked over at Michael and Jamie after the song, I saw my brother exhale, possibly for the first time in his life. His eyes brimmed with tears, and I felt, profoundly, that he was at long last home.
These past few years, he has flowered in amazing ways.
In the old days, the two most common descriptions of him were probably grouchy and cheap. In fact, he used to take a lot of pride in being a skinflint. He subscribed to the Tightwad Gazette and made growling noises about any extravagance. He routinely asked, “How much did they rip you for that?” He was cheap.
Over the Martin Luther King Day weekend, he and his dear wife came to visit us, and we had a wonderful time. They played with the kids. They never let me near the kitchen. They played scrumptious four-hands piano. (Oh, how I envy that ability!) They came to synagogue with us. (My brother is not an organized religion kind of guy.)
Moreover, I was blown away by their generosity. Their company would have been enough, but their thoughtfulness in every respect made the visit extraordinary. They gave us money for dinner and a movie and watched the children while we went. They took us out to the coffee shop and somehow sneakily managed to purchase a gift card so that we could go back on our own. They stayed in a hotel and never arrived at our house without food — sometimes enough for a full dinner, which they cooked. They bought puzzles for the kids.
Then this afternoon I came home from picking up Akiva at school to find a box on the front porch. My formerly tightwad brother bought me a crock pot.
I am incredibly grateful, not just for the gifts and gestures, but (even more) for the opportunity to see my brother happy and at peace.