Recondite

[Yesterday was my brother's birthday. At dinner we were asked to go around the table and say one thing we liked about him. I didn't go then, wanting to think about it. After doing so, I came up with this:]

If I were talking to a blind man about my brother, and asked to describe him, I would pause for a moment; cock my head to the side, as if to pull his image out of the air. I would smile to myself (for the blind man could not see me, though I am sure he felt it), and say, “the best part about my brother is that they never see him coming.”

The blind man smiles too, sightless eyes seeing what my clumsy physical description would never show. To see my brother is to see a person like any other, but at the same time not to see, not to realize what you have seen.

If I were talking to a newspaper reporter, who had never met my brother, and was about to go out and find him and meet him and talk to him and interview him and he asked what I could add I would say a different thing than to the blind man. For I would want the reporter to see for himself, to experience that singular sensation of having realized, “I did not understand when first I saw what I was seeing.”

But if asked by the reporter, subsequent to his first visit, I might be induced to add things that had not been gleaned, had been left out for modesty’s sake, things I would want the reporter—and his audience—to know. I would tell the reporter of my brother’s capacity for joy in little things, of his delight in the details of life. Those details…that is where the magic is, is it not?

I would need not tell the reporter of my brother’s intellect, having spent a night in his company the journalist would surely know. My brother’s accomplishments the reporter should be finding out for himself, and while those accomplishments are impressive, they never tell us really about the person, do they?

If I were telling a young woman about my brother….then again, perhaps I would not be a reliable narrator in this situation. Let us say instead…..If I were confessing my sins to a priest, and the time came to talk about my brother, I would—if not freely, at least under celestial exhortation—admit that I am jealous of his manner around the fairer sex, the easy subtle way he seems to be able to just be in the moment, be who he is where he is. (I am sure Jocelyn would come up.) I would tell my confessor what a brother should never feel; envy, for his own brother, for being the only person I do not feel “cool” around. Then again, I suppose if one is going to feel awkward, less cool, around anyone, who better than one’s own brother?

Other “sins” confessed would reach more of a defiant state of affairs, as I admitted my own lack of discipline in physical appearance, in achieving any of life’s goals, in comparison with my brother. For here I am not so much jealous as proud, the sin therein might pride, or simply holding that pride in check, not expressing it as much as I ought, and to whom that I ought. I admire that my brother was able to get into and handle the rigors of a top-flight college, especially given the hamstringing chemistry our blood decided to bring to the party. I am proud he has gone on to law school, while working in actual law firms, keeping his eyes on the prize. More than either of those, I am proud he has managed to do all of this while living on his own. Trust me, I would tell the priest, this is easier said than done.

If I were talking to a man who had never met my brother, and very likely would never meet my brother, and I wanted to pass something along, really give a sense of him, perhaps then I could relax and just talk. I would tell that man about my brother’s sense of humor, how advanced it was, far more than anyone else I have met. How he could appreciate irony in at least 17 different forms, how he could simultaneously appreciate bad punnery and sophisticated historical literary allusion, how he could laugh at a joke too inappropriate to do anything but shock the uninitiated, but still crack a smile at the 500th iteration of a family koan.

I would tell the man about how we had our own language growing up, a connecting force between us against the parents (who had their own against us), and how that bond continues to this day in the form of discourse. I would admit that my brother is the one person I feel comfortable actually turning my filter completely off for, and letting the full force of my capacity for reason out, knowing that he can not only understand it, but return in kind. There is a pain one feels when talking to people at the necessity to keep what you can do, how you might really talk given the chance, all in check. That there exists a person out there who can understand…..that is truly a comfort.

I would tell the man how great it was to be able to talk to someone so profound, and not only that, but someone who was ever willing to have his mind changed. To talk to someone who has no beliefs, and shifts with the wind, picking up opinions like cockleburs on the legs of your pants; to me that is no good. He who will not stand for something holds very little interest, and will never be more than a mirror for the last person to cross his shadow.

Equally vexing, however, is a man who will change his mind for no one. The entire purpose of intellectual discourse is not to be proven right but to be right by knowing right, and that well may mean—and almost assuredly does—that the other fellow has something to bring to the table. The goal should be to increase one’s knowledge, to strengthen one’s own arguments, or, having heard compelling evidence to the contrary, to shift what does not fit. A man who desires to know is not concerned with being wrong. There is no shame there. He just wants to know, and is always open to truth when he hears it.

This is the rarest of rare qualities, and this is my brother. This is the thing for which I am perhaps most proud, most pleased with. Tell him of something great—like a book or a movie, and he will try to read it, try to watch it, try to experience that greatness. But knowing that intellectual and philosophical discussions have the same chance of success…that is where the heart soars, and where true pride really begins.

Finally, if my brother came to me, with the news that his graduating class was burying a time capsule, and wanted to encapsulate (pun intended) each graduate with one word, I would first of course laugh. One thing my brother is rarely accused of is being an impulse decision maker, and I know this choice would plague him. However, I would be able to help him, and only because I have thought of this question for some time; describing the people closest to me in one word.

That word would be Recondite. It means dealing with profound or abstract subject matter. It means beyond ordinary knowledge or understanding. When Aristotle taught his students, there was the exoteric knowledge, to be transcribed and available to everyone of the day. Then there was the esoteric knowledge, that which was abstruse or acroamatic, unknowable to all but a few. In other words: recondite.

That is my brother. He works at a deeper level than those I have met. He is not an egghead or inaccessible to everyday people, as he is able to converse with anyone; far more than I. He has chosen his life in manner that purposely calls for taking the time for profound thought, not to be superficial, but to be recondite. This is the kind of thing most people do not realize when they meet him, as it is not something he shows off or flourishes from the beginning. It is, however, something that can blow them away, especially when they thought they had him pegged. As I would tell the blind man, it is that thing which gives me a small inner smile: they never see him coming.

[Three years ago I had a different take on my brother, which you can read here.]

1 comment:

Koz said...

I know your brother and have never wanted to have sex with him until after I read this.