HOWARD WASKOW, 57, AND ARTHUR WASKOW, 60, GREW UP as brothers in a quiet Jewish neighborhood in Baltimore in the 1940s. They gathered scrap metal for the war effort together, went to the same day camp and schools, and, as adults, both worked for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. But like many siblings, they spent nearly 40 years in a relationship that, while civil on the surface, was distant, competitive and hostile underneath. During Passover week in 1985, the two brothers Howard, a Gestalt therapist, and Arthur, a leader in the movement for Jewish spiritual renewal reconciled. This article, adapted from their book Becoming Brothers (Free Press, 1993), is the story of their alienation and reconciliation.
HOWARD: It is April 7, 1985, the second day of Passover. Honey as Arthur and I have called our mother since we were little boys is struggling to stay alert. She is 74. Heavily sedated, she braces her arms behind her on her hospital bed and folds one knee under her to keep herself on guard. Her eyes are barely open; her jaw is tight; her breath comes fast and shallow. Doctors, nurses and orderlies are arrayed behind her with their equipment, preparing to insert a respirator tube.
Her lungs, ravaged decades before by tuberculosis and surgery, have finally given out. For the past two years, she’s lived a constricted life in our family’s house on Cottage Avenue in Baltimore, seldom moving beyond the compass of the plastic cord that connected her to the oxygen tank beside her bed. Tethered this way, she had prepared all the Seder dishes except only the knishes for a Passover dinner she’d warned us would be the last she would do. But the day before Arthur and I came back to Baltimore, he from Philadelphia and I from Oregon, her doctors told her she needed to go to the hospital immediately. She could not “stagger through the weekend” as she’d thought. So, instead of gathering around the long table where the readings and disputations had swirled around us, mingling with smells of Matzoh balls and roasted chicken, we are here in a spare, somber room at Sinai Hospital.
Why the respirator? The doctors want to give her weakened lungs a few days to recover from the bronchitis that has finally brought her to this point, and then try to “wean” her from the machine. If we do not agree to insert the respirator, they say, Honey will die within hours. Arthur, gray-bearded and balding like myself, leans toward Honey from his side of her bed; our father stands at the foot. I stoop toward her from my side and tell her what the doctors have said. I ask her what she wants. No answer.
I ask her, “Did you understand?”
She mutters, “No. Repeat.”
We cannot get through. My father, brother and I huddle in the hall. Arthur says, “It’s up to Dad.” Dad blinks in pain, his hazel eyes filmy behind his spectacles. He thinks as clearly as he can and does what is familiar: depend on the experts for advice. To me, the moment is now. Honey has talked for the first time of “giving up,” and the previous night had given us instructions about financial affairs and suggestions about how Dad should live. She’s ready now; I know it. But I defer to my brother in his deference to Dad. So the three of us “agree,” and we allow her doctors to proceed but only on condition they will take her off the respirator completely if they cannot wean her in four days.
An orderly and two nurses force the tube down Honey’s throat. The oxygen reaches her lungs, her blood, her brain. Awakened to full consciousness, she’s furious. She can’t say what she wants, but her eyes burn and her hands reach down frantically, trying to disconnect the pump. Arthur on one side of the bed, I on the other, stroke her arms and try again to explain the doctor’s plans. Muted by the respirator tube, she looks at us with pleading eyes. It is obvious to both of us: rather than this, she wants to die. All our lives she’s backed us, putting her tiny body between us and the bullies in the neighborhood and, later, at political rallies; saving money for our educations; typing our Ph.D. theses; supporting us when we left the academic world in the political upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s. Now, she needs our help.
We meet with our mother’s primary doctor. No, she tells us, another doctor has misinformed us. The hospital cannot take Honey off the respirator now that she is on it. There could be legal problems.
From this moment on, Arthur Otts, as I have called him since we were children and I work together as a team. Over the next two days, we carry Honey’s increasingly urgent notes to her doctors: “Wrong.” “Silly.” “How much longer?” “Torture.” We talk late at night at Cottage Avenue; we plan. We consult a lawyer, and decide that, if necessary, we’ll confront the hospital administration about the original agreement with the doctors. We make Honey’s doctor understand that, for Honey, this is torture. Her eyes fill with tears, and we come to a partial understanding: she, too, does not want to keep Honey alive indefinitely on a respirator.
On the evening of the next day, Honey writes another note. She wants to see her doctor, alone. “Mrs. Waskow,” her doctor reports after their meeting, telling us what we have known for days, “has made a decision to die.” The doctor explains what she intends to do: there is a way out.
I go into Honey’s room and tell her, “There is a plan. Tomorrow is the day.” She nods, and rests. Twelve hours later, her doctor transfers Honey out of intensive care, where she is carefully monitored, and into a regular hospital room, switching her from a highly sophisticated respirator to the less efficient model used on the floor.
Before she leaves intensive care, I say goodbye. “Honey, thank you for being such a good teacher.” The words burst out of me, but they sound more like my brother’s than my own. Then I find my own voice. “And don’t worry about me and Otts,” I say, in tears. “I know we’re both a little fat, but we’re healthy, we really are. Honey, I love you so much, but if you want to die, I want that for you.”
ARTHUR: Now it is time for me to say goodbye, but it doesn’t quite work. Honey is conscious, but not quite responsive. I start to tell her that when I look at my daughter, Shoshana, I will see a breath of her. She looks back at me, not answering. I ask myself, “Did I get it wrong, even now?” I tell her I know she never intended to keep me an outsider, that this past year I have felt, at last, in touch with her. Her hand under mine shifts ever so lightly, so gently I am not sure whether it is a message or an accident. She slips into something between sleep and coma. I walk out crying.
HOWARD: They move her from intensive care, and she dies within two hours. Out of our love for her, Arthur and I have worked more closely together than ever in our lives, using everything we know to give her what she wants. We have put aside our differences, this once, for her sake.
It wasn’t always this way between us brothers. And within a day, the old conflicts would surface again.
HOWARD: GROWING UP, ARTHUR AND I SELDOM M. M. cooperated, and beneath our civil surface, Otts was scornfully dismissive of me; I, fiercely competitive with him. Usually, we fought with words; occasionally, with fists. At the heart of the struggle, we’ve come to realize, was our relationship to Honey.
Otts was thin, dark and tense like Honey and her father, after whom Otts had been named and whom he was expected to emulate; I was stocky and relatively placid like Dad’s side of the family. Otts was always breaking bones his nose and then each arm whereas my bones, the doctor said, were “massive.” And when he was 8, Otts spent a whole year in bed with rheumatic fever, being nursed and tutored by Honey. One of my first memories of Otts is of him sitting up, with pillows stuffed behind him, in the big bed where Honey and Daddy slept. I was five. Honey was leaning over him, helping him choose the red, white and blue beads that would make the pattern come out right. They were working on an Indian bead belt. Otts was making it, not me. And Honey was showing him.
Honey gave Otts so much attention that year that he skipped a grade when he went back to school. Indeed, from his infancy, she had stimulated Otts’s intellect. She read to him, taught him how to have a conversation, talked with him about politics, about her beloved Baltimore Sun, about all the books she loved. It was different for me. She was too busy to read to me. I was with her drying dishes as she washed, or watching as she cooked “Howard, does this meat loaf need more salt or pepper?” And as I worked alongside her, she taught me about life. “Marry a woman you can talk with,” she’d say. And, “Be close to your brother above all.”
But Otts and I weren’t close. I spent Saturdays going to the movies with Mends or playing ball; Otts spent his Saturdays in the library, reading American history and science fiction, staying until Honey called the librarian to ask her to send him home. I read sports histories and adventure books, played the lead in the school plays and was president of my homeroom. Otts was a “brain.” I was celebrated for “well-roundedness.”
The kids in the neighborhood called Otts “Encyclopedia.” They said he was smart, but had no common sense, and they were right. Why did he listen to the news every hour on the hour, even though it was exactly the same as it had been the hour before? Why would he suddenly yell, rush upstairs and slam the door? Why did he offend Grandma by insisting he was an atheist? Everything he thought and did seemed to go off at a peculiar angle. No wonder he had no friends.
Watching Otts, I learned how not to be. He was skeptical, unpredictable and angry a puzzle to the family. I became a kind of diplomat. I was the one who could be depended on, who laughed and broke the tension. I was closer than Otts to every member of the extended family. Who wanted storm and stress? Who wanted loneliness? Not me.
But somehow my gift for relationship didn’t seem to matter. What really mattered was the immensity of what Otts knew: the tricky quickness of his mind, the relentless flow of words, any one of which, at any moment, I might fail to understand. All that mattered, finally, was his look of triumphant contempt when he had clinched his argument.
My mental picture of him in those years is of a sneer. His eyes, somewhat obscured by the light glinting off his glasses, protrude in disbelief; his badly reset nose is twisted to one side; his lips are scornfully compressed. He sneers at me and laughs. And once he spit right in my face. I hated him.
My finest moment came when I was 12, in Druid Hill Park, where the Y Day Camp based its operations. It was the annual all-star game. I was pitching for the campers for the last time; Otts was on the counselors’ team, out in left field. We campers were down by a run as we went up for our last at-bats. With one man on, I was at the plate. On the first pitch, I hit the ball harder than I ever had, pulling it high and deep to left. As I finished my swing and started toward first, I had a glimpse of Otts’s face. It was a face of panic and despair. Rounding first, I saw that the ball was over him; it would roll forever on the grass, into the trees that ring left field. There was no stopping it.
Ever since, this image has sustained me. With my mind at rest, I see myself at 12 years old, swinging the perfectly weighted bat: the solid impact travels up my arms, my chest opens, I am at peace. The moment lives in me as a time of strength, solidity and grace the moment when I defeated Otts, turning his sneering face to fear. ARTHUR: We were locked into struggle from the day Howard came into the world. I was 3 years and 18 days old when we went to visit this new brother and Honey in the hospital. It was my first car trip, and I was riding in the taxicab that one of the neighbors owned, staring out the window as the city zipped past.
“What street is this?”
“It’s Howard Street.” (Now that’s too much. Did they have to name a street for him?)
“Where’s Arthur Street?”
Silence. Laughter. “There isn’t any.” (Why not? And laughing about it? Unfair!)
On the day Howard was born, I became the outsider.
When I was 9, Marty Zeskind from across the street lined up a bunch of kids and marched us up and down the sidewalk. I think the notion was that we were Alaskan huskies, pulling a sled across the ice, and he was the driver. Every once in a while, he’d swing a rope across our backs.
Suddenly, from our porch way across the street, came Honey, a Fury scattering the enemy. She snatched the rope from Marty’s hand, furious at him for hitting us, at us for letting him, and most of all at me.
“Why did you let him do it?” she demanded. “You’re old enough to take up for the little kids! Especially for Howard! You’re the older brother! You take care of him!”
The intensity of that anger! Defend the underdog! Yes, Honey. But the underdog is me! When Howard was born, it was me who got left out.
All those years, I kept a hot, secret anger at Howard and Honey. There wasn’t any place to put it. I couldn’t be angry at Howard, because he was the underdog. I couldn’t turn it against Honey, because she was right: I had to defend the underdog. I learned that lesson well.
I learned to imitate Honey’s flaming glare so perfectly that it took me only a moment to wither the oppressor. But I overlearned that glare. I turned it on Honey and Howard and all the other close and loving people in my life.
The year I was 8, when I had rheumatic fever, was like a Garden of Delight. Then and only then I felt wholly welcome in the circle of the family or rather, in the circle of Honey’s love. She set a standard for total companionship that no one person not she, not a brother, not a wife could ever match again. With lively talk, backrubs with pungent alcohol, books brought home from the library, patient encouragement to do my homework, and a project of a billion Indian beads to string with baffled care, she kept me sane and helped my heart repair itself.
It’s one thing to experience Eden in the womb; it’s another to have it when you’re 8, and can still remember, and be ever after conscious of its absence.
When I turned 11, my outsider status was reinforced again. My mother, the joyful, curious, active, running, explorer-talker-teacher, got tuberculosis, the disease that had killed her father when he was 37. She was quarantined for two years in a bedroom upstairs. I learned to stand in the doorway of a room I couldn’t enter, to blow a kiss past bedsheets that I couldn’t touch to a face that grew more gaunt each week, a face we couldn’t kiss. There were several occasions when we were sure that she would die. My father told me that if I wasn’t good, she might give up her will to live.
From Honey’s example as my teacher, I got the idea that watching over Howard meant teaching him. I was desperate to teach him. I can still see and smell the thick, green volume I wanted to teach him: Cheyney’s History of England, which stroked and tickled me with all its charts of royal genealogy sprinkled through its pages.
It was not just any book; it was one of the textbooks my father, a history teacher, used. There was even an Arthur in its genealogies: Arthur, the Black Prince, the bravest of the brave who was slain before he could come into his kingship. And there were patterns not just facts. I wanted to teach Howard the patterned waves and curls of royal history the fair kings, the unfair kings.
I can still taste the sour frustration, the bitter anger, when Howard rebelled, refusing to sit still. He wouldn’t listen. And then, most bitter of all, Honey said it was okay for Howard to rebel. The only way I could respond to such a wall of blankness was to turn away. I became “far-sighted,” looking beyond my family and the neighborhood toward the larger world. If my family locked me out, what could I do but turn my back on them and look outward toward all those shimmering distances?
It was easy to imagine strangeness in me and comfort in Howard, easy to split us into two stereotypes. Easy to like him and not me. I remember the moment in the mid-1940s that sealed my identity as the odd one, the moment nobody in the family ever forgot. One day, I noticed a headline in the Baltimore Sun: What Did Senators Do with Johnson? “Strange question,” I said. “They acquitted him from the House impeachment charges. Everybody knows that!” Howard and Dad guffawed and screamed and shook. “Not Andrew Johnson, Walter Johnson! Not the President, the pitcher! Not the U.S. senators, the Washington Senators.
Baseball!” I was stuck forever in a stereotype.
HOWARD: AS YOUNGER BROTHER, I WAS NEVER warned that I could cause Honey to die. Instead, I took on the role of caretaker. In the fiercest struggle of our youth, it was these roles that we played out. Otts was 18 and I was 15. Now that Otts had gained some weight, we were the same size, pretty much full-grown. It was dinnertime. Dad was at an early-evening teaching job. Honey had been sick again. She had ladled out the soup, but wasn’t eating. Hunched, drawn, she sat with her jaw clenched, looking hard at Otts, who was reading at the table. Lips compressed, he refused to look up.
“Otts,” I said. “Would you please stop reading so that Honey can start to eat?”
No answer. Honey’s jaw got tighter. Still no answer, and still Honey did not eat. I reached around Otts and, without touching him, pulled away his magazine. Eyes bulging with contempt, he slapped my face. Suddenly, I was on my feet swinging at him. I’d never been so furious. I wanted to destroy that face.
Sprung from her frozen posture, Honey jumped between us, hanging on to my arms. “Howard, stop!” she ordered, but I brushed her aside. Otts stood there, arms folded, sneering. Honey grabbed my T-shirt. I ripped it from her hands and pulled it off. She grabbed my belt. I undid the buckle and thrust my pants away. My jockey shorts went with them.
Now there was nothing that she could grab. Thick-necked, hairy, with barrel chest and sloping shoulders, I was Tarzan
of the Apes, naked in the middle of our kitchen. I moved again toward Otts.
Honey retreated to the hall telephone. “Howard, I’ll call the police if you don’t stop.”
Otts and I ignored her. Now it was just the two of us, facing each other in the narrow corridor between the kitchen table and the work counter. He had removed only his glasses. With a cry of joy, I lunged at him. But he was as big as I was. He just looked steadily at me, his naked eyes strangely vulnerable, and without a word, tied me up in a bear hug.
Our heads were so close I could smell his sour breath, could hardly tell his panting from my own. Sweat made my shoulders slippery, but he held my arms. I heaved, I strained, I tried to batter him. Finally, I tired. I felt defeated. To feel equal, I would have had to win.
After that, the rage went underground. All through school, I silently competed with Otts. Since he had skipped a year in elementary school, I did three years’ work in two in junior high. In his senior year, he placed second in a Hearst national American history contest, winning $1,500 enough for two years’ tuition at Johns Hopkins. Not wanting to challenge him directly on that ground, I became an expert on sports statistics and won a calendar watch on a radio quiz show. I followed Otts to Johns Hopkins and co-edited the newspaper on which he had been only managing editor. Like him, I was elected Master of AEPi, and selected for Phi Beta Kappa. But my success wasn’t quite enough to bring me peace. I was competing with him, but was he with me?
In the late 1950s, both of us went to graduate school, Otts in American history, I in American literature. In the early 1960s, he moved to Washington and helped found the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank for the Left. He planned national mobilizations and wrote books on racism and nuclear disarmament. I moved to Oregon to teach at Reed College and worked for many of the same goals educational reform, civil rights and peace but on a local scale. I had three children, left my tenured teaching job at Reed, helped found an urban commune, opened a “small is beautiful” restaurant, and became a Gestalt therapist.
We returned to Baltimore almost every Thanksgiving or Passover, and sat across from each other peaceably enough. But we didn’t talk about our work lives, our marriages, our children. In the early 1970s, when I separated from my first wife, I didn’t even call to tell my brother. “Why didn’t you call me? Is there anything I can do?” he asked me over the phone, when he heard the news from our parents. “No, Otts, there’s nothing you can do,” I answered, thinking, “Fuck you! What do you know about my life? Now you want to be a brother to me?”
A few months later, he came to Oregon anyway, adding a few days to a speaking tour, and said, as he listened to me talk of my impending divorce, that I sounded angry at my wife. Me angry, rather than sad and understanding? Anger belonged to Otts, not me. For the first time in my life, he had said something I found emotionally perceptive.
It was a beginning, and I followed up, asking him to put aside a few days to be with me when I flew East to see our parents. With some reluctance, he agreed, and we walked and talked for hours in the snowy woods during a stay on the Erie Canal, speaking for the first time in depth about our private lives. But then, the next year, in 1973, in the living room of a borrowed cabin on the Oregon coast, my rage erupted once again.
The cabin was supposed to be a refuge, the visit a brief vacation from the war in Vietnam and our continuing protests against it. We were two right-thinking, liberal men, both respected in our separate communities. The talk was of politics, or maybe of religion. It was an ordinary argument of the sort we’d engaged in all of our lives. In answer to something I said, Otts waved dismissively as I talked and snorted, “Ah, bullshit!”
“I really may have to kill you some day, after all,” I said. The words emerged cold and quiet as a knife, shocking me as much as Otts. The masks held so carefully in place for so many years slid instantly away: actually we were Cain and Abel, with fear and hatred in our hearts. Later, Otts told me it was the “after all” that got to him the long-held rage that it implied but in the moment, he just raised his eyebrows, pursed his lips and went for a long walk. When he returned, he sat across from me, leaned toward me, and said: “I felt really afraid, as if you might actually hurt me.”
I tilted back my chair, folded my hands behind my head, and answered, “Good. Now you know the way I’ve always felt when you say ‘Bullshit!’ to me that way. As if you really want to kill me, to wipe me out. Good. I’m glad that finally you know how it feels.”
In his eyes, I saw something new: he understood it. It was another turning point. We began to talk about our past.
ARTHUR: IN THE YEARS AFTER HIS DIVORCE, HOWARD began digging in the half-forgotten tales of our childhood searching for his own story and passed on to me things that explained my separation from the family then. I divorced, too, and began to learn from Howard to look more carefully at the people close to me in my life. I didn’t give up politics, trying to heal the broken relationships in the “big” world. But I began to see what it might mean to try to heal the broken relationships closer to home.
For 10 years, we maintained this new plateau between us. Then, Honey’s dying brought us into the closest relationship we had ever had.
As we prepared for her funeral, Howard and I sat in the room at Cottage Avenue that had been mine when we were boys. How to shape a funeral that would truly honor Honey’s memory? That she would want it to be Jewish was clear; that she no longer had any connection to a friendly rabbi, or even a once-a-year synagogue, was equally clear. Since my mid-thirties, I had centered my life in the community devoted to Jewish spiritual renewal. And I had come to believe that a family doesn’t bring in a rabbi nobody knows to officiate at a service; the family does it itself. It seemed almost logical that I, the family’s expert in Judaism, should act as the rabbi at my mother’s funeral. But what, I wondered, would that do to my father, my brother?
So Howard and I agreed that I would call a rabbi friend, a man of unusual learning, openness and wisdom. He agreed to lead the service, but suggested that Howard and I should each stand and speak about Honey’s life. Better us than someone who barely knew her.
It seemed perfect to me. “No,” Howard said. “To you, it’s perfect because you take what’s intimate and make it public. That’s how you write, that’s how you speak. I can’t do that. I would break down, just stand there weeping. It’s too intimate for me to do. My closeness to her is different from yours,” he went on. “I could talk with her. You couldn’t. And she could talk with me. I can’t tell that, and I can’t talk without telling that. So I can’t talk.”
A flash of hatred ran through me, and a dialogue began inside.
He’s saying Honey loved him more than me!
I ought to kill him.
Well, at least I ought to hate him.
Well, I do hate him!
I looked for the flash of murderous rage, to prove I hated him. But it was gone. With a shiver of regret, almost nostalgia Where are you, Murder, now that I really need you? I turned back to my brother.
“All right, I understand. You can’t do it. But I can. Is that okay?”
After a long pause, he said, “I’d feel diminished It would look as if you are speaking for us all. My truth would get left out.”
“But that’s not legitimate! You won’t speak, so I shouldn’t speak? Come on!”
“I know it’s not ‘legitimate.’ But if you talk, I’ll feel terrible.”
I walked away, angrily, and in total pain for me, for him.
To be who I fully am in the moment out of my whole life when I most wanted to be my fullest self meant to speak aloud my love. But what honor would it be to my mother to make my brother feel diminished? But what about my fulfillment?
Phyllis, my lover, listened to me go back and forth. She suggested: “Ask the rabbi to meet with all of us, to hear our stories of Honey and retell them as our stories, not as his. It won’t be a polished eulogy; it won’t shimmer and flow. But it will be real.”
I went back to Howard. He listened, nodded. “That’s fine, that’s what I’d want.”
Then I exploded.
“But it’s not what I want!”
And we went through the whole thing again.
ARTHUR: My heart was hammering and knocking with a silent voice of its own-. “You know what you’re supposed to do. You’re the older brother, you’ve always been first. You wrote about it even, all that stuff about Ishmael and Isaac, and Esau and Jacob. Give it up, give it up, give it up!” And me, in silence, a voice answering back, “I can’t do it. I can’t do it, I can’t.”
I yelled at Howard, “It’s not a compromise. It fits you and not me, you understand?”
He looked at me quietly. “I understand,” he said.
And then the barrier dropped away. I said, “Okay. Let’s do it. Let’s ask Max to collect our stories. I’ll call him.”
I felt solid. Not joy, not love, not sadness, not anger, not relief, not resignation. Solid.
The rabbi agreed. I asked the family to think of the stories they wanted to tell, and began to jot down some of my own. An hour later, my brother came to me: “Would you do it? Would you collect the stories and then tell them, not in your own voice, but in all our voices? I’d like for you to do that.” And then I cried.
Surrender, and space opens up. Maybe your brother will surrender back to you maybe not. Surrender and the universe might use the new open space to open up some new path, some new possibility. It might turn out you want the new path even more.
And so I wandered all through the house on Cottage Avenue with a piece of paper and a pen grabbing my father, my daughter, my brother, Howard’s former wife listening to their stories and jotting down a word or two to help me remember.
The next day, I stood at the podium in the funeral home in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood 30 blocks north of where we grew up, clinging to my scrap of paper. Looking out at all my cousins and aunts and former neighbors, I began with a story about pistachio ice cream, a memory Howard and I shared from our Baltimore childhood: Whenever Honey took one of us downtown to buy a suit, we stopped at the Purity Restaurant across from the Lexington Market. Nowhere else in Baltimore could you find pistachio ice cream, so cool and green. We would watch Honey explore that strangeness, her eyes sparkling with a joy both sensual and intellectual. Every time, a question-. “How will it taste this time?”
Then I told a dozen family stories of how Honey met her life as curious, loving and passionate with everything and everyone as she was with the spoonful of pistachio ice cream.
At the last moment, I looked up and realized with shame that I had told none of Dad’s stories. So I ended simply by saying that Honey’s passion and curiosity reached its peak in her love of him. I don’t remember all that I said that day. But I do remember that close to the end, I said, “Two brothers. Two brothers from that same womb: so different. From the same womb, two intertwining stories.”
HOWARD: Our talk before the funeral seemed the same to me as always. Otts’s flushed face, his head pushed forward at me, his voice hurled like a blow, his logic meant to pin me. He offered Phyllis’s solution, I accepted it, and suddenly he was furious again a familiar craziness, it seemed. But as I sat with Otts on the bed that first was his, then mine after he left Cottage Avenue, his anger didn’t frighten me. I was just saying clearly what I wanted, “legitimate” or not, and magically my fear was gone.
Also, for the first time I could see beneath his anger, could see that above all he needed to be understood. What I’d always known of my therapy clients, now I knew about my brother. When I said simply that I did understand, magically his anger fled.
This felt to me not like anyone’s surrender or victory, but like a meeting of two equals. But inside I was not settled yet. As Otts began his eulogy, his gathering of all our stories, Cordelia’s words from King Lear ran through my head: “Love, and be silent.” The one whose love cannot be put in words loves best: so I consoled myself.
But the more Otts spoke, the less Cordelia’s words seemed relevant. For I could hear that he knew Honey well his story about her proved it. And when he told my story well, I could hear that he understood me too: how touched I’d been when Honey gave me brightly colored bands for the pony-tail I’d grown at 37. And when he closed with Honey’s love of Dad, I knew that I would not have thought, have felt, to do it.
There was more to my brother, evidently, than I’d known.
Howard Waskow is a Gestalt therapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of Whitman: Exploration in Form and, with his brother, Arthur, Becoming Brothers (The Free Press, 1993). Address: 1934 S.E. 37th Ave., Portland, OR 97214.
Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center, a network for Jewish thought and action on how to protect and heal the earth. He is the author of Godwrestling and Seasons of Joy. Address: The Shalom Center, 7318 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19119.
Copyright © 1993 by Howard Waskow and Arthur Waskow. Printed by permission of The Free Press, a division of Macmillan, Inc.