Standing Among Giants
I had a first yesterday. My youngest brother stepped up to protect me. That’s not to say he hasn’t been on my side before, protective and loving and… well, brotherly. But yesterday, he stood up for me in the type of way I’ve always considered my duty to all my family. He stood up for me in the way an older brother ought to step in for the for weaker, younger, fragile sibling…
Thanksgiving morning dawned, I was woken and shortly found myself on a frost covered field with twenty-something mostly strangers. Football. Far from my strength. I’ve never been terribly physically gifted. I grew up gawky and physically awkward. I’ve since taken to regular gym time and have packed on enough muscle to beat the curve, but I’m far from an athlete. The only sport I’ve ever been any good at is soccer and that was as much through will and endless years of experience. Even then, I often only succeeded because I surprise people with speed or perseverance. I certainly am not earning any points for true skill. I’ll leave genuine physical prowess up to others.
And it was on this chill Thanksgiving morning that my youngest brother stepped up for me.
For those who don’t know, I have a terribly troublesome back. I originally injured it pouring concrete when I was 17. Since then I’ve further ruined it while surfing and being in a hit and run while I was biking (among a few other more moderate instances). A doctor once told me my spine would never be good, or normal again, and that the best I could hope for was to maintain a relative health and usefulness through exercise and diligent maintenance. Surgery was more or less rules out do to the compound nature of multiple issues through several areas of my spine. So I wake in pain, I go to sleep in pain, and I wake in the middle of the night, in pain.
Back to the point at hand… I only came to play the “Turkey Bowl” because I was told it would be touch or flag, not tackle. I’d expressed before hand I simply couldn’t do tackle. I don’t trust my body enough to hold up. On any given day I can tell it’s one wrong twist or turn from putting me into immobility for a week or months. Well, I showed up and everyone unanimously voted (minus myself) to play tackle.
...I don’t like holding people back. I didn’t want to ruin the fun. Ok. Everyone wants to play tackle, I’ll buy in… with the exception that I’m flags. I’m touch only. I hate being the lame exception, but I know my body and no amount of fun is worth the pain I’d be in if I played like everyone else.
The moment I mention I won’t do tackle, that I can’t, my good friend mentions my back as validation and the group generally agrees… And then someone in the mass makes a wisecrack about targeting me as a weak link.
Enter Stage Right, The Incredible Hulk.
My youngest brother is what can only be deemed as a physical outlier. Part of this is natural gift and a great deal of if it is through sheer exertion of will and a simple refusal to quit when most people would. He was blessed without an off switch, without that little voice that tells you to quit. Or if he has it, he has been given an inhuman ability to ignore it and impose his will on the situation. This is a kid who grew up as a skinny Haole boy in Hawaii, playing football with Polynesian kids two or three times his size. This is the kid who decided that didn’t matter and created a highlight reel of him leveling running backs with 50 to a 100 pounds on him. This is the kid who has always found a way to seemingly do the physically impossible. This is the kid who refused to quit or be beat.
As a result, my brother was one of the biggest and fittest people on the field that day. 200ish pounds of twisted, rugby and football playing steel. This body is a tool, a vehicle for sport or destruction. And to the joking comment some stranger had made he said something in a dead cold voice that gave me the first realization that I was not longer truly the “big brother.”
“If you touch him I will smoke you.”
I will smoke you.
I’d never heard the phrase, never heard him say it before, but I knew exactly what he meant. I saw his face. He was dead serious.
We went on to play. I did my part, miming the part of a defender or receiver. He repeatedly ran over defenders and gently (because he didn’t want to hurt anyone by going full-out) took down the other team. He was half our team of 12, maybe more.
Eventually came the play where I was the targeted receiver. I caught the ball and instantly ran into a defender who, in his defense, had missed the bit about me being outside the tackle rules. I went down relatively gently, by tackling standards, but I felt my back give way nonetheless. I got up, someone said, “Green does NOT mean go,” as I was wearing a green shirt. In the background someone shouted something along the lines of, “Yeah, you can’t touch him, he has a glass hip.”
And then again, there was my youngest brother, leveling a gaze against a joking bunch of weekend warriors, answering a comment I hadn’t heard. “Try it and I will destroy you.”
I looked at him. I hadn’t heard the original comment, though I could guess the line of joking it had come from. I was in the midst of telling the guy who’d tackled me not to worry, he hadn’t known. “It’s all good.”
And my brother stood there like Hercules or Achilles. Like stone. Staring. And his words hung in the air - at least to me.
I will destroy you.
My brother is not a violent person. Far from it. He’s closer to what you’d call a gentle giant, though he doesn’t appear to be a giant to anyone who doesn’t know him. He’s above average in size, but far from inherently imposing. When he switches from a caring, God-fearing man to a person capable of ripping someone apart, well, he’s a genuinely dangerous person. On my best day I wouldn’t want to go there, even knowing I have a much better grasp of martial arts than he does. He’d will through whatever is thrown at him and… well, as he said, destroy.
And so there I stood, already in physical pain and knowing the worst wouldn’t set in for hours as my body realized I’d abused my injured back. Everyone lined up to play as if nothing had happened… And yet there I was, sitting and thinking… pondering at what point had I crossed from big brother into someone who needed protection. I didn’t feel I needed it, but he felt it was his duty - that he was obligated.
I stand among giants.
I’ve always known I’ve blessed to be born into an extraordinary family. I have siblings that are valedictorians, geniuses, empathetic, and concert pianists. And, yes, I have a brother with a soft heart who’s a physical beast willing to stand for those he loves.
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
I won’t pretend I don’t stand upon their shoulders, though as they are my family, and my friends, but I’d like to think that through my own efforts I’ve found a way to stand among them.
I may be the older brother. But I’m no longer the big brother… And I couldn’t be more happy or proud.