I choose this image since it is so fitting. Vague, hazy, faded, obscure, an unknown and almost faceless child. I flick through the thick albums of photographs, some that belonged to my long gone grandmother, others to my mother that have been passed on to me. I find many images, some in particular that lend a predictable, joyous narrative and yet I return again and again to this one and so I accept the decision is made for me. Each time today that I wrote the date or told any child in my charge todays date it was unavoidable, I thought of him. This boy in the picture. I thought too of my mother and the feelings that may have been stirring in her. A part of me wonders if this boy in the picture might surface and make an unexpected visit, just like that time before. I ponder speaking with her to see if this has been the case but in my heart of hearts I know the truth. The truth is silence. Silence. Unquiet silence. Silence can shatter the heart into a million little pieces and sometimes it's just that one piece that digs in, like a tiny, awkward, painful and bothersome stone in your shoe. The kind that stops you in your tracks and forces you to find a solution. Do you know the frustration of not finding that stone even when you know you felt it just seconds before? You question yourself. Is it the shoe itself that carries the fault or something alien that has found its way into the shoe that is the source of the problem? Could the stone simply have found a way to bury itself in order to no longer be seen and no longer a problem? That's how it feels, like all of these questions without a definitive answer. These days, this is is how it hurts, like that tiny, tiny stone. The one doing its work and battling always to resurface.
He would always protect me, him being seven years older than I and being the eldest and I being the youngest. I would run to him and speak desperately, asking for one thing or another. I would delight in every touch between us, a nudge or a squeeze, an arm around my shoulders, a piggy back, a leg-up. The hairs bristled on my arms whenever he would unexpectedly return from boarding school and I would enter our home to his presence and if I remember correctly, I would cry happy tears at him being returned to me. Mine. Solely my big brother. Of course, he is a brother to my two sisters, a father to my nieces, a son to my mother and many other titles of belonging to others but today he is solely mine. My big brother. Much like how I fantasised as a teenager writing a diary that one day my diaries would be discovered and published, making me an Anais Nin of my generation, I sit here tip tapping at keys in the vaguest of hope that he may come upon my words. I would feel sadness, deep shattering sadness if he ever thought he was forgotten. You are not and neither could you ever be so.
He was brother, helper, hero and in exactly that order. I cannot use the present tense because I no longer know him or do I? Estrangement is so very different to separation, it is not geography or circumstance that is keeping us apart but the silence. The unquiet. The gap. The a part or no longer a part keeping us apart. My own offspring are both curious and enchanted, perplexed and baffled by this family secret of sorts, this oddity, this stranger that lives in photograph albums and in the closet with the many, many pieces of shattered hearts. I skim these words of mine and the ones that stand out are 'shatter' which in dictionary defining terms means: devastate, shock, stun, daze, dumbfound, traumatise, crush, overwhelm, greatly upset, distress. I nod for each word, for each emotion I connect to the word, for each time I have woken in the night from a dream about him, for each uncomfortable conversation explaining to others, for each milestone I would have liked to share with him, for each success and victory that my nieces have experienced, for each practical joke either I and now my offspring have pulled off that I learned in my early days and passed on, for each memory from childhood that I long to speak of nostalgically with him. All of this and so, so much more, a burdensome amount more. He was my brother, my helper and my hero. He is my brother but like this hazy, faded picture I cannot see his face and I don't know what he looks like. Our future is unclear, unknown and yet I have hope. The many pieces of my shattered heart made whole again as I read the words 'The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.' (Psalm 28.7)