Dear Uncle Kjell,
I must preface this letter with an important request: please do not share this letter with anyone other than Tante Siri. I respect that in a marital partnership, secrets are devastating so I do not wish for you to have to carry a burden of secrecy between yourself and your wife. However, I do hope you can keep this letter confidential otherwise. My mother knows I am writing a letter, but she does not know the contents of this letter. She only knows that I am writing to you to urge you to reach out to your brother in love. The rest of this letter is private, with details I have kept hidden for decades. Thank you, Uncle.
I have been struggling with the idea of this letter ever since I heard the news that you and Per are no longer talking. My struggle comes from a conflict between minding my own business (after all what do I know about it all- probably very little … if nothing), and the pull inside my soul that urges me to speak up (I believe this is the spirit of God urging me to say something to you to help you). Saying nothing to you would mean keeping things safe. Saying nothing carries little risk for me. Saying nothing carries a tremendous burden, because saying nothing is the coward’s way out. Saying nothing results in my ability to carry on as if nothing is happening. I have lived with the burden of saying nothing about certain things that happened in my own life, surrounding my brother, for about 37 years. Saying nothing got him killed. And now, all these years later, I have no brother alive; I am an only child living out my days supporting my parents (and they support me). But I have lived with regret most of my life.
Speaking up, voicing concern, vocalizing the perspective that lies within- that is scary. My mind reels as I consider all of the possible reactions and the fallout from this letter. Some possibilities include: your anger, your disdain for my meddling, and your wrath on my mother (this the worst of all fears). I have witnessed parts of your harbored anger or resentment towards people in your life (recalling various conversations over the years). I recall your disdain for my father at your perception that he, in his old age, was careless of others (the ice cream incident in your village), and it is a bit scary to me. My Dad has really had no money of his own for many years (Mom manages everything). With his illnesses and vulnerabilities, Mom gives him a small allowance, that’s it. So he has become used to not having money in his pockets- so his ice cream purchase that day which was just for him- was likely because he only had money to cover his own ice cream. While their stay with you should have resulted in him “springing” for everyone’s ice cream, to harbor ill will towards him and label him stingy for this action, is misguided. You wouldn’t have known that, but your judgment of him which you voiced to me- haunts me to this day. In his old age, certain behaviors have changed- they are more childlike; something I have become accustomed to witnessing and also accustomed to overlooking. For some years now, he has changed- and in some ways, I see a regression. And, it’s not something I disrespect but rather, something that I have compassion for- it shifts something in me to see him in this way, so different from the strong and marvelous personality of his youth. I don’t want you to be mad at me for mentioning these things, I only bring them up to tell you that over the years, your words have hurt others. Your insensitivity has hurt others. You have a strong generous side, and you also have a strong opinion and judgment side. We all want to be loved, accepted, encouraged, cared for and we certainly don’t want to be discarded.
Over the years, I have found that people have a tendency to judge others. I am not immune, I do not suggest that I am free of this tendency. In fact, because of my own judgments, I recognize when folks around me exact judgment on others. And, this judgment can result in a strict penalty for behavior unbecoming. We are not generally a merciful society. We do not love one another. We look out only for our own interests. This is the godless society, the one that has not a care for the other soul but more interest in self-preservation. What’s in it for me?
My heart broke when I heard about your reaction to your brother’s behavior. I am not certain of the details of the incident, and I know that likely, this one incident was not the only sin he may have committed in your world. I do know that you are a very wealthy man now. That money is king in your life. And, that something occurred which was based in a money transaction. And this transaction has led you to mistrust him and feel betrayed by him. This decision you have made to eliminate him from your life is a decision likely made because of buildup. Perceptions and irritations over the years have indicated to you that his behavior and perhaps personality is in conflict with yours. Being around him is unpleasant. It brings you stress and strain. It is uncomfortable.
I know a little bit about this discomfort. I have had to forgive myself and my brother for several years of discomfort that I experienced with him which I held secret until one day, I cursed him, I told him to bugger off and leave me alone. And he did just that. He took my mother’s car keys and with his cousin, they headed out for a joy ride. And, Joseph died. What was so bothersome about his behavior that led me to scream such obscenities at him? What could have possibly been so horrible that I used such strong language to tell him to go? For a couple of years, there was sexual abuse going on. It started innocently enough as one of those games certain children play which Joseph started: you show me yours, I’ll show you mine. This was generally done with cousins around so it was a group thing. Later, Joseph threatened – show me yours because now you are a whore. You have to show me yours. He had paid me a dollar, so he said that now… I was a prostitute. I had taken money for sex. I was 11 years old. Literally, this went on for about two years. In my room, in the car (parents in front seat) he would taunt me. Open his fly and look at me. He would come in to my room at night, sometimes drunk and want to explore. He was always getting into trouble, I was the good girl. So I let him. And I hated him. And I hated me. On May 13, 1979, we had family over at our house for Mother’s Day weekend, and once again, Joseph started the game in the basement with the cousins. He was trying to get me paired up with my cousin Calvin. He laughed that he was my pimp. He mocked me. And, I had enough. My biggest mistake was that I had never told my parents. And, I screamed at him. And I cried. And he left. And, he died.
I have forgiven Joseph long ago- he was only a child himself. I have forgiven me- I was only a child. It took me a long time to get to a place of forgiveness. When I was 16, I tried to kill myself with pills because I couldn’t handle that I turned 16 and Joseph didn’t. I was rushed to the hospital, I went to counseling for a while, and they never heard my story, because I wouldn’t tell it to the counselor. I was too ashamed of what had happened. I felt I had killed my brother because I had kept silent. Then, since counseling was not really working, and it was expensive, my parents asked me: are you getting anything out of this? I said no. So, it was back to normal life – as normal as it could be. And, my life since then has been deeply affected by this tragedy. I have not had a normal life in the sense that 1978-1979 has affected my perspective on intimacy and on trust. And, now perhaps I have shared too much, and even more important, this letter is not about me. I bring it up only because it is about siblings. It is about forgiveness and bearing with the sins of our blood relatives. It’s about providing grace and mercy and not shutting each other out.
What sin has Per done that is so grave that you can’t reach out to your own brother and forgive him? What has he done that is so horrible, that you can’t hold out an olive branch and say to him: “it’s ok, let’s reconnect?” – that you can’t wrap your arms around him and say, “never mind- let’s get past this?” Can you not live with the idea that: while you don’t maybe like him very much, you must love him? You have a brother. He is a man who is flawed (as are we all). You are flawed. He is flawed. I am flawed. We all need forgiveness, we all need love and we need each other. We need forgiveness and mercy – not isolation.
Imagine if on this planet, people would forgive each other. That they would reach out in love and mercy to one another and live peacefully together. No war. No murder. No hell on earth.
I think about God in all of this. I know that you don’t necessarily believe in Jesus and God literally. Nor that you might speak with him regularly in prayer (how odd would that be? To actually talk to a God that is not physically present?). But I do think about God. Because he provided these amazing stories in his book- the bible. Stories of deception and reconciliation. Stories of hate and love. Stories of loss and gain. Examples on how we are to live our lives if we are to live them victoriously and pleasing in his eyes. I think of the story of Joseph and his brothers. How they sold him into slavery and abandoned him. How in his slavery and in the many struggles, he maintained his love for his brothers even though they had betrayed him. And, how he showed that love to them later in mercy … when he became a powerful man – he forgave them, and he loved them. This story is found in Genesis 37.
God gave his son Jesus – who suffered and died on the cross, so that all sinners (me and everyone in this world) could be saved. His death on the cross saves me because it prevents me from being separated from God for all eternity. His love for me in sending his only son is so merciful and his forgiveness so undeserved by me, but he did this for all humanity. If God can forgive me in this way, through the suffering and sacrifice of his son for me, and Jesus- suffering as he did (God incarnate) … how then can I not forgive others for their minor sins against me? I must show mercy, I must give my love freely to others. I am obligated to show grace (grace = undeserved favor).
I hope you receive this letter well. That you are not angry with me. That you can see that I am concerned about you and Per out of a deep love. I hope you can find a way to restore your connection with Per. You don’t have to be best friends. It shouldn’t be fake. But that you can love him as your brother. To honor him as your parents would want you to honor him. To take care for him even when it seems he is unworthy of that care. To put aside your own needs in favor of him. He lost his daughter recently- she rejected him. Now he loses his brother. His sister is in America. It’s tragic. It is not right. And, it’s not too late to right this wrong.
With love and care for you and our family.