Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Sibling Rival, Now Gone

I learned that my brother had passed away by text message at 2 AM.  I was expecting it so checked my iPhone when I woke up 51 minutes later.  That may seem an odd way to learn about the death of someone so close.  However, the vigil had been long and he was 3000 miles away.  I was among the 12 or 20 situated remotely who learned about it en masse.

A friend – a first-born child like me – once described the source of sibling rivalry this way:

“When you’re born, you get all your parents’ attention.  They constantly praise you, show their love and tell you how unique and special you are.  Then, one day, another kid comes along and your parents treat him the same way…”

What’s up with that?

Though sibling rivalry begins as a battle for the attention for one’s parents, it’s different from other battles in that its protagonists share a foxhole.  So, my brother, Steven, and I shared experiences with one another that we shared with no one else.  Without knowing it or intending it, we formed a “Bond of Brothers” (pun intended).

We were cowboys together. 

I am the scowling presence on the left.  My brother, Steven, always had a better outlook on life than I.  He could always smell the roses…..

I remember when this picture was taken perhaps because in the aforementioned battle for attention, Steven won this skirmish.

We had our first dog together. 

That’s Steven with his arms around the neck of our Collie, Duchess.

A female character in a TV show I was watching once said, “There is something wrong with a man who can’t love a dog”.  It can also be said that there is something right with a man who can.  And, Steven loved many of them during his life. 

We were class presidents together.  I’m not sure how this happened or why.  But, it did.  The kids at school joked that we were the Kennedy’s of Cold Spring Harbor. 

Along the way, Steven decided to abandon the field of battle.  He became more true to himself.  He created some distance from his family.  He changed his name (or his presentation of it).  Steven became Stephen and his middle name, Paul, became Paolo.  It was minor act of rebellion. 

We were a family of engineers.  My father was a draftsman in one of his many jobs after the war.  In his construction business, he was called upon to interpret many a blueprint.  My uncle was an aerospace engineer who worked on the project that put the first man on the moon.  I got my engineering degree at the Naval Academy.  My brother, Chris, got his at MIT. 


Steven got a degree in music.  He was still smelling the roses. 

He worked as a musician when he could in Manhattan for many years until he followed a young beauty to New Mexico.  They married outdoors on a wonderful summer day.  We all sat in a circle and spoke, in turn, about how we felt that day.

The matchbooks at each table setting said,

Steve & Linda
Burnin’ Love

A hippie wedding with a touch of Elvis.  Perfect!

Along the way, he accumulated a wonderful extension of his family.  They were centered on their own spiritual well-being and each other’s.  They formed a support network that accompanied him on his life’s journey.  Near the end, they brought comfort food, fresh fruit and wine to share.  They held hands, told stories and spread the love.  And, they embraced those of us who parachuted in from our more traditional world on the east coast. 

Steven had a debilitating disease for the last dozen years or so of his life.  At times, he was in excruciating pain.  Yet, he never complained and greeted everyone with only love in his heart and a smile on his face.

We almost lost him on Christmas Day but he fought back.  Most remarkable was how he spent his time during his last days.  He Skyped with all of his friends and family one-by-one – New York, New Mexico, Virginia, Florida, California – so he could tell each how much he appreciated knowing them and what they brought to his life.

It was remarkable how many lives he touched and how many were grateful to have known him. 

If you believe in birth-order theory, you know that the second child represents the interests of the mother.  Like my mother in her last days, Steven had a smile for everyone and greeted everyone with love – until he could no longer do so.

At its core, leadership is about the example you set for those around you.

The example set by my brother can be summarized in one word…

… Grace.

Stephen Paolo Calia died on April 16, 2014.  He was 62.

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