Cries of “Marco” and “Polo” skip across the surface of the years and I am right back there in my neighbor’s pool swimming for my existence. He didn’t mind being IT, squeezing his eyes and shouting “Marco” and charging at the splashing sounds of “Polo” we made. The game was fun, somewhat, and frightening, somewhat, especially when he was IT and I knew I’d get caught and dunked if not drowned. “Sharks and Minnows” is the same game but this title more truthfully connotes the terror of being a minnow when he was the shark. Putting fun and anxiety on the scale, I’m afraid anxiety won most times, weighing more heavily on my mind, making the game one I avoided, and when avoidance was socially impossible, sometimes hiding in the corner and whispering “polo.” I liked being Marco not much better, fearing that the moment I closed my eyes the only thing I would catch was the concrete wall with my teeth, which happily never happened. I do not play “Marco Polo” with my children. I much prefer swimming with my eyes open and being neither a shark nor a minnow, but rather a friendly popular whale. We play “Barnacle” where the little ones cling to my whaleness and I try to throw them off. Or “Launch” where I throw the children high over my head (having studied our distance from the concrete wall). When my children grew too old and heavy for me to throw, their younger cousins took their turn, clinging to their old bald waterlogged uncle with shouts and giggles that skip across the surface of the years, and my brother is two again, two to my eighteen, two to my leaving for a university two thousand miles away, before emails, before cell phones, before computers, and how is it even possible to know someone, a family member, your only brother, when he is only two when you’ve grown up and gone.
Now I am 56 and he is 40, my children are mostly grown and gone, and his are still young and joyfully exuberant, and one day he sends me an invitation to join Marco Polo, a video sharing app, and I do, and he starts sending me video messages and I start sending him video messages and soon we are “talking” every week, after a dearth of decades, giving updates about work and children and holidays and moves and home decor and books and thoughts about books and scripture and history and God—the conversation always comes back to God, who is there in our lives, from the beginning of our births to common parents, through our sponging-up childhood and our sluffing-off piecing-together adolescence and our first stumbling attempts at adulthood when stupidity counts but you can still course correct, to our first bumbling efforts at marriage when course correction is more important and more difficult and when the stakes are so dazzlingly high. I ask him, how can this be that we are talking when I left when you were two and you are now forty and we are talking, we are expressing our hesitant thoughts that normally ramble around only in our own brains, hoping that we each understand the other and appreciate the other’s thoughts and respects the other even and is overjoyed to be an unexpected source of intellectual stimulation—that is what I ask him. And he starts by pointing out, we never really know someone, we never really have access to them, really; we can live with someone for many years and they will say something that astonishes us or they will misunderstand us in a fundamental way; and while we may have access to the same sights and sounds we never really have access to their minds and thoughts; and how our most common and frequent correspondent is ourself, in our mind’s ruminations, and how these self-conversations often can merge for people of faith, can coalesce into prayer, where we have a new thought or we express gratitude or we ask “What’s that all about?” And he says, it makes sense to me, for we were born and raised and spent years and decades in the same house with the same parents who struggled to work and provide and teach and mold and prepare us, and the same siblings we loved and lost and now love again, and we share the same DNA, literally the same double-helixed four-lettered molecules in our cells—the same history, the same biology, the same environment—we are brothers, built on a common foundation, and will share a common bond, forever. I realize how smart and how wise and how right he is, and that thought begins to skip and run and somersault around and to make sense to me, not just the 1+1=2 kind of sense but the meaning of life kind of sense, the kind that seeks to know the human soul, the kind that labors to cultivate goodness and compassion within, the kind that distills into that quantum of existence called Truth. And then we noticed that the thoughts we recorded and sent by Marco Polo are in common to the other’s thoughts, and these thoughts grow and dance and evanesce into shared minds, for an instant or two, now and then, even though we have never spoken about them to each other before. And though we will never really know each other or understand each other, and perhaps not even ourselves, and though we will always be in our own worlds, yet we are brothers, and always will be, and share more than we know, more than we thought likely, or possible.
Roger is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist. Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season. Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit. A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births. The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.
Love this so much! So blessed by my beloved brothers.
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Of course, I love my wonderful sisters, too!
I am always amazed at how long we live in a family and never really know another’s true thoughts. I love thought sharing but there are those who don’t and so it’s best not to tread.
Love this piece, Roger!
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Thanks so much Patsy! I’m glad you could relate to it. This piece came to me after a Marco Polo conversation with my brother. The dialog is factual. He is a remarkable young man.