My brother, Ryan communicates mostly by text. When he was two, Ryan contracted meningitis that cruelly stole most of his hearing. Close to 30 years later, Ryan has endured three cochlear implant surgeries to help restore what functionality remains to him in his right ear. I remember getting a late night text message from Ryan on an evening I had returned home from college. He had wanted to talk to my mom, but she was already in bed. "What's up?" I questioned. "Not doing too well." He wrote. After a bit of probing, I discovered that Ryan's long-term girlfriend had just left him, choosing to pursue a career path that took her out of our then hometown.
Ryan was devastated.
I made a midnight drive over to his apartment in what I think would be our first truly adult interaction. My heart broke for my big brother for whom I have always felt a sense of urgent protectiveness. It seems silly for me to say that because Ryan is twice my size, but it's the way I have always felt.
Fast forward about a decade to this past weekend.
I enjoyed the great privilege of delivering a speech in my role as best man at Ryan's wedding, a favor I returned from nearly a decade ago when Ryan did the same for me. As one may often do, I had occasion to ponder how Ryan ended up with his new bride, having endured more than one heartbreak following the one that brought me to his apartment in the middle of the night.
Ryan is a passionate family man. He desires nothing more fervently than to be a great husband, and one day, a great father. The woman he married had been a close friend of his for nearly fifteen years. She had come to parties as a friend; they had met each other's current relationships at various points during their lives. It wasn't until after each of them had walked a crooked winding roads, each turn and new discovery seasoning them, one for the other.
I don't know exactly how to explain what I mean.
Because this is my job, I know that despite what we'd love to believe, and despite the romantic notions in which we indulge at weddings and anniversaries, we couple because we choose to. Too much is made of the impact of "chemistry" or "compatibility" in partner selection. We create rather than discover compatible relationships. It is true that just like learning a language, we tend to be seasoned for certain types of relationships at different points in our lives. If, for example, you're looking for a second partner in your mid-fifties, you tend to know what you're looking for, and are likely less willing to engage in the games of your youth.
But not everyone desires a permanent travel companion. Some live satisfying lives sharing bits of their roads with friends and family who join them along the way. Others' companionships are unfairly and horribly interrupted by unexpected loss or family transition. Regardless of where you are on your journey, I do believe strongly that we all walk a crooked winding road. We don't see past the twists and turns, though we may try, but we trudge ahead anyway, knowing we can't go back.
What's your crooked winding road?
Ryan was never alone on his journey. His family and friends walked his path with him. I believe that Ryan's comfortable ease with which he has settled into his brand new marriage is the result of how seasoned he was by his losses as well as his triumphs. He chose this relationship because he felt that he had something to offer, rather than worrying that he needed something he lacked. It is so easy blame ourselves if we're not where we think we should be on our roads, especially when it comes to relationships. Whether you walk your road with family and friends, or whether you walk your road with a permanent companion, if I learned anything from Ryan, it is that a road walked compassionately and vulnerably is a road well-traveled.