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  • Writer's pictureJim Donaher

What separates us is nothing, compared to what unites us.

Families are hard. They are wonderful, but they are hard.

Although we are fiercely defensive of our families toward the outside world, we are sometimes very hard on one another on the inside.

I come from a small family and a small extended family. My brother and I are what they call 'Irish twins' being 11 months apart in age.

Being so close in age, we were always pushing and shoving each other for most of our growing up lives. Not so much in rivalry for our parents love and attention, but in dismay and irritation that we differed in so many ways.

It became clear early on that we were in no way twins, that we were very different and unique people, with virtually no overlap in our talents, strengths and abilities. When we were young, we didn't 'appreciate' or 'celebrate' our differences. We fought about them.

As we've grown older, and learned more about the world and each other, we learned to appreciate each other more. My brother and his wife have raised three incredible children (including a set of real twins!), and have carved out a nice life for themselves in their 31 years of marriage. My wife and I have raised two incredible children and have carved out a nice life for ourselves as well, also in 31 years of marriage.

Though our lives have similar trajectories, we are still not the same. He is, by far, the nicer, more compassionate person. I don't say that in false modesty. I'm okay. But my brother is the living embodiment of my mother's kindness, gentleness and loving nature. He is non-judgmental, patient, open-minded and willing to listen to anyone at any time. If he has enemies, he does not denigrate them. If he has something nasty to say, he does not say it. His 'benefit of the doubt' is always at the ready.

On the other hand, although I have made strides, I am not the kind, understanding compassionate person my mother was, my father became or that my brother is. I am impatient, judge others too quickly, put off things I don't like to do, and behave passive-aggressively at times. I am often negative, sarcastic and irritable. I can be antisocial, hate talking on the phone, and am withdrawing more and more from the world, mostly because I don't care to interact with it any more than is absolutely necessary.

Hopefully, I've managed to delineate the distinctions between the Donaher brothers fairly well, but there is an additional point. My brother is not a saint, is not perfect, is not flawless. And I am not a demon, or a heretic, or a terrorist. We share imperfection. We share that with every other human on earth. We have cracks and fractures in the facades we put before the world every day.

We are not annoying, crew-cutted brats fighting in the back seat of the station wagon anymore. We are, to use a contemporary term, 'grown-ass men.' We carry out our responsibilities as best we can, day in and day out, and we don't spend time patting ourselves on the back. We love our families and we love each other, faults, differences and all.

What separates us is nothing compared to what unites us.

In this way, we share an ethic from our father, who was 'family first' sometimes to the point of being 'family only.' Growing up, the maddest I ever saw him was when we didn't stick up for each other. Neither of us were good fighters, so we usually lost our fights, and it infuriated Dad, as an only child himself, to see each of us with a built-in, but usually useless bodyguard.

I strive to be more open and accepting like my brother. And though I revere the memory of our parents, I know they were imperfect also. But we accepted their imperfections and loved them for the total package they both were, and the even more total package they were together as a team. And they loved and accepted us.

The point of this is not to brag on my brother, or describe just how highly evolved we are in my family. Quite the opposite. We have all of the issues and struggles and problems that every other family has. Every family has oddities, about which we pleadingly ask, 'Who does that?' as if no one, anywhere, does 'that.'

The challenge for us is to step outside of ourselves when we look at our families. To see ourselves, our parents, our siblings, and everyone, with a charitable eye, recognizing differences in everything and accepting the person, regardless of the difference.

Don't agree with someone's politics? Then either argue respectfully or talk about something else. Is someone's lifestyle incomprehensible to you? Either ask questions respectfully and with an open mind, with the intent to learn and understand, or talk about something else.

Why do I have to put up with this?

Because what separates us is nothing compared to what unites us.

Grace, mercy, compassion, kindness.

We give these to friends, neighbors, colleagues, teammates, strangers and almost everyone else. Sometimes we run out of it when we get to our family.

That could be because we take for granted that they are always there, that there will always be time, and we put it off. Eventually, time does run out, though.

We also put it off because it's hard. It requires humility, courage and persistence. When we ask forgiveness, we risk not getting it. For that reason, especially with family, we need to be gracious if someone is trying to make amends. Don't hold them to a script, or insist that they say the exact words. It doesn't mean there isn't more to work through. A lot of problems take time and are complex. But forgiveness lifts a burden off both parties, enabling both to go forward and work on the other stuff. It gets you both 'off the schneid.'

It is worth it. Family strife is painful for everyone. No one ever wins. Innocents get hurt too. Children, elders, and others miss out on what could be wonderful friendships with cousins and aunts and uncles. And for what?

Pray for your family and each of its members. These prayers are answered and God will give you strength for the hard things, and He blesses your efforts.

What separates us is nothing compared to what unites us.

God bless you.

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