October 1, 2009
I have a brother in western Massachusetts. He recently turned 65 and is as handsome as ever. One of his neighbors hung a sheet near his cabin with â€œ65 & HOTâ€ painted in big red letters.
He has one of those heads that looks good shaved, sports a neatly trimmed white beard, and is lean and strong from all the hiking he does. Unfortunately heâ€™s a bit of a recluse.
He has four beautiful children, a daughter and three sons, with whom he is close and a grandson who is his best friend, someone with whom he feels completely comfortable. The rest of the family he keeps at armâ€™s length.
Itâ€™s not that heâ€™s cruel or mean-spirited; itâ€™s just that heâ€™d rather be alone with his books, thoughts, and his writing. He is a talented writer and there is a steady flow of letters between us.
I am convinced that if he was a little more of what passes these days for â€œnormal,â€ he could have been a successful writer. Itâ€™s not so much what he says but how beautifully he says it. I admire his prose more than I understand his content.
I would describe him as a radical mystic. His politics are radical mixed with a large dose of mysticism gleaned from his extensive reading on the subject in books he borrows from the library at Smith College, his alma mater.
He entered Smith after completing a tour with the Marines in Vietnam, an experience that I believe may account for at least some of his radical views. The rest would have come from his personal life, particularly his work experience as a psychiatric social worker.
His sympathies are with the poor, oppressed, and suffering of the world. He is wary of those with money and power. With no desire for money or possessions, he lives at the outer edge of basic; a solitary monk in his own cloister.
While I lament our separation and his absence over the years at family events, I respect his stubborn resistance to convention. He remains true to his beliefs despite the loneliness and pain he undoubtedly endures.
I overlook our differences and instead emphasize that about which we agree. We often agree on problems but rarely on solutions. He is more optimistic than I that there are solutions for the many intractable problems that flow from our flawed human nature.
I remember him as a smiling, good-natured youngster, and on those rare instances now when he can be lured out of hibernation, he retains all those engaging qualities. He enjoys a good laugh and is fun to be with.
I see a very sensitive spirit, so disappointed with the world and the way it has treated the less fortunate that he escaped. He chose a hard life, one too easily dismissed, and by his own standards he has lived it with dignity.
If some march to their own drummer, he has an entire band.
Those who love him and suffer the loss of his presence find it hard to understand. Itâ€™s not something you can easily understand; you just accept it. I believe we are not estranged; weâ€™re simply apart. His problem is not that he loved too little, but too much.
One day, we hope, he will come down off Turkey Hill and once again join the family circle. But he will more likely continue to walk the rough path he has chosen, head high; a noble foot soldier on a quest for social justice.
I admire him. In many ways, heâ€™s a better man than I.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.