It was four years ago, during the Cedar Fire that swept Eastern San Diego County, that I had to open a door in my heart that had been shut for several years. My brother lived in the area that was devastated by the fire. At that time, we had not spoken in over six years. But, I knew he lived in one of the hard hit communities, and it was very possible that he had lost or was going to lose his home. I remember I called his number. It just rang. That could mean one of two things; his place had no power, or there was no home. I didn’t want to worry about him or his family, but I did.
I followed the coverage relentlessly. CNN becomes my constant companion during any kind of natural or even man made disaster. I hate to admit it, but I find it exciting. It breaks up the monotony of the same old same old. But, it also exercises my mind of compassion. I try and let the victims’ suffering in and generate some genuine compassion (rather than simply pity).
A week later, when I heard and read that the evacuees were allowed to come back to their homes, I tried calling again. Answering machine. Whew. I hung up. Fine. Good. I could stop worrying about them. A colleague, however, chided me for not leaving a message, so he shamed me into calling again. Well, OK. I’ll leave a short message. As I was leaving a message, my sister-in-law picked up the phone. Oh shit. But, we ended up having a very cordial conversation about their ordeal (they had to evacuate out to Arizona b/c that was the first place that had open lodging, dealing with rumors of their house burning down, confirmation that their friends’ houses had, etc.). She said she’d have my brother call me.
He never did. I closed up that door in my heart again. Put the key in a safe place in case I ever needed it again.
So, now it’s 10 years that my brother and I haven’t spoken. And here I am once again nervously checking the news coverage to see if his home is in the line of fire. So far he’s in the clear. I don’t want to worry about him. But, I do.
It makes me sad and angry that I don’t have a relationship with my only living relative. But, apparently we can’t get past our vast differences: he’s a very conservative Christian living in the San Diego area, and I’m a very liberal Buddhist living in the Bay Area. He cut me out of his life 10 years ago after I told him I was a Buddhist. I guess he didn’t want his kids to be influenced by me. Sure, it was OK for me to be around his kids when I was drunken depressed atheist. It doesn’t make sense. So, in order to protect my heart, I shut that door. There are moments when I’m tempted to be the bigger person and try and start a dialogue, but pride gets in the way, as well as fear that I’ll be rejected again. It’s sad that I missed his kids growing up. I send them gifts every Christmas. I never get back a thank you. Every year as they got older I thought “maybe, maybe this time, I’ll get an acknowledgment. Maybe I can start a relationship with my neices and nephew.” But, it doesn’t happen. I accept that. Sadly.
So, from a distance I do care. And maybe that’s as close as it’s going to ever be.