Through Thick and Thinner

Print Share

    Lately there had been a wall between us. Here was a good chance to brush up on our relationship.

    Mike is truly a special person, but it took me 18 years to realize it. Mike is my older brother, and for years we struggled to get along. We are very different. Mike, the family athlete, played basketball while I practiced the piano. I excelled in English and literature. Mike’s forte is science. But instead of our differences forming a complementary relationship between us, we let them turn into feelings of anger and contention.

    Consequently, those negative feelings began to concern our parents. “Jeff, we are an eternal family. If you and Mike can’t get along now, you’re not going to be happy with him in the eternities,” my father said one day. “Of all the relationships in your life, this is one of the most important. You must put forth all your effort to build it up. It will take a lot of work; everything worthwhile does.”

    That night I thought a lot about what Dad had said, and I knew he was right. I promised myself that I would try my best to build a better relationship with my brother.

    With the hopes of building a friendship between Mike and me, our parents planned a long family vacation in Alaska where we could spend a lot of time together fishing, hiking, and camping. Mom and Dad’s plan caught a snag, though. Both Mike and I wanted to stay home to work and earn money for college. Disappointed but supportive of our decision, our family left us in Houston to work for the two months they would be in Alaska.

    After they left, we both searched for good jobs with little success until Mike finally found one. The catch was he needed me too. A real estate manager had several houses that needed exterior paint jobs, and he was looking for a couple of guys to paint. At the time, the thought of working several hours every day with Mike was not appealing. But the money was too good to refuse.

    On our first day of painting the change in us began. At 5:30 A.M., Mike yelled into my room, “Come on, get up! It’s only going to get hotter!” With a groan, I got dressed. We both knew once the sun was up, the temperature would rise quickly, making outside work even more miserable. Mike loaded the van with our equipment, while I made juice and packed fruit that we hoped would give us periodic reprieves from the beating sun.

    As we began to paint, we realized our painting strategies were quite different. While I spent a lot of time on each area, moving on only when the area was well-coated and no spots showed, Mike would paint an entire wall quickly and messily and then return for a second coat to cover any missed spots. The different strategies were equally efficient and caused no problems until we both had to work in the same area. We then compromised. Mike began with his first coat and I followed behind, catching every spot and finishing details. We finished much faster than expected.

    Another potential conflict arose in choosing a radio station to listen to. While Mike preferred the “light” station, I complained it was more monotonous than the painting. I didn’t want to argue, though, so I was preparing to give him the choice. But it was Mike who acquiesced. During the course of that day, Mike listened to more alternative rock than ever before. I even caught him singing along several times.

    Though we painted through some periods without talking, we also maintained long periods of conversation, perhaps longer than we had ever talked before. Conversation made the job go faster, and as we talked it became clear that we had some things in common. In that one afternoon, we talked about school, the Church, music, and art. I told about a bizarre dream I’d had. He told me about his most embarrassing date. We found ourselves laughing as we realized we had repainted an entire wall in the midst of our conversation.

    It was beginning to get dark when we finally finished the house. We cleaned our equipment, loaded the van, and then surveyed the house with satisfaction. As I drove home, I thought about something I’d learned in a physics class. Physicists define work in terms of force (effort) and displacement (movement). Thus, work becomes a term of progress, dependent on effort and movement. I thought about our first day of painting that same way. It had required a lot of effort, and we could see our progress on the house. But there was other work we had done that day too. Our relationship had become stronger. It wasn’t without effort, though. The words of my father echoed in my mind: “It will take work; everything worthwhile does.”

    Later, I talked on the phone to my parents about the first day of painting. I told them despite the Texas heat, we were able to finish the first house. “Working with Mike wasn’t too bad. In fact, it was kind of fun,” I told my mom. “I’m excited to start the next house.”

    Indeed, I couldn’t wait to continue what would turn out to be my real summer work—appreciating my brother.

    [photos] Photography by Matt Reier