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Today would have been my youngest brother’s birthday. James Edward Dahl, born January 24, 1958, the youngest of five children, died August 18, 2012. His creative brain was stopped by an bursting aneurysm which soon after stilled his beating heart. More than four years later, I don’t need pictures to remind me of his warm smile or the pain that he medicated through alcohol.

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I attended my first Al-anon meeting last week. I wish I had gone years ago. But I told myself that his alcoholism affected my co-dependent mom, not me. I lived too far away from his daily life. I thought I was not touched by this disease. However, as I tried to move forward after his death followed a year later by our mother’s death, I discovered many unresolved issues surrounding my relationship with my artistic, lonely, sharing but self-burdened younger brother.

At that Al-anon meeting, around the room I heard echoed my own thoughts and struggles. Why couldn’t  I fix him? How come I could not convince my mother of her co-dependency, as she gave him money and made excuses for him? During my visits to see him and mom, I’d ask, “Didn’t he love me enough to delay drinking until after the movie?”

I heard one admit that she was like the older brother who would not join his Father’s celebration at the return of the Prodigal Son in the story told by Jesus. In her words, I heard my brother’s accusation that I rode into town being the “Good Child” and leaving mom upset. When he blamed others and could say it aloud, he usually had been drinking and so my admission and apology could not be received, but I rarely heard his heart cries. I did not understand his inner pain or the hold that alcohol held over his life.

I was the self-righteous one with all the answers. Since his death, all I encounter is questions. If I couldn’t fix him, could I accept him for who he was? If I couldn’t understand his behavior, could I acknowledge his great love for his family, his friends, and his art? If he could not wait for that drink after a day of smiling at unreasonable customers, can I face the fact that I longed for him to be free, to be whole, and to receive the love that God and so many offered him? Can I see the log in my own eye in all those efforts to force our mother to see the speck in hers?

Today’s reading in Courage to Change, a book given to me at that first Al-anon meeting, I am encouraged to be myself, to own my own feelings of anger, embarrassment, resentment, or fear that one of my children may “catch this disease.” Today, I can choose to honor my brother’s struggles and his gifts. Today, I can embrace my own faults and contributions.

I can apply what William Shakespeare wrote, “This above all, to thine own self be true.”

– link to Al-anon Family Groups in USA, Canada & Bermuda: http://al-anon.org

–  The Biblical story of the prodigal son can be found in the book of Luke chapter 15  with a few other lost and found stories.

–  Jesus’ words on the log and the speck are in Matthew which is printed here.
Matthew 7:3-5 New Living Translation (NLT) from Bible Gateway.com

3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye[a] when you have a log in your own? 4 How can you think of saying to your friend,[b] ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.                       [a & b: in Greek = brother]

– humorous note on context of Shakespeare
quote from Hamlet: https://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/thine-own-self-true

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Our fourth child loves travel but chooses to stay close to her birthplace for school and work. She has already been to Arizona and Florida, plus a few other states on the way. Her next destination is London.

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Every chance I get I encourage people to enjoy now what God has given to them. If I bring leftovers home from a nice restaurant, or cook a frozen dinner, I don’t eat out of the disposable container. I arrange the warmed food attractively on a good plate and enjoy it more. If I long for caramel rolls while thinking of my mom, I buy or make them and share the rest with a friend. Then I am double-blessed. The simplest thing when savored can become a feast.

When someone walks me around their house and tells me, “That was Aunt Sally’s table.” I say, “Well, it is yours now.” We cling to objects as if they are the people we miss. One lady I knew had three couches and two tables in her small home, because she had inherited them when various relatives died. She couldn’t imagine selling them or giving them away because of who they represented. I think there are better ways to hold onto good memories – and the bad memories are best left behind anyway.

I think there is room for someday and maybe on our life lists, but instead of thinking, “Someday, I will go to Australia,” and sighing over the impossibility. I can start a piggy bank for all my change and $200 or so per year will get me there in ten years or less. When we take the first step by asking, “What can I do now to get closer to that happening?” we find renewed energy to make it come true.

Illness, accidents, natural disasters, or economic downturns may derail our someday plans or modify them, but we don’t have to throw the idea away completely. If I decide my health prevents me from taking my dream trip, I can use the money I’ve saved to send a grandchild.

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