You were already three years old when we first met. I had no idea that you would be around me for so long and while we fought like cats and dogs, I would not have known what to do if you weren’t there.
It seemed like such a pain to have someone always acting like they knew everything (and proving most of the damned time that they did), and like I knew nothing (I mostly knew what you taught me).
As much as I claimed not to like being in your shadow, I followed you for the longest time. I went to the same elementary school, the same high school and the same college you went to. And when I got to college, I pledged the same fraternity that you did.
By the time we were teenagers, I began to discover my own identity and I discovered that identity was a lot like your own. We saw the world through the same lenses in many ways—both of us were growing up to hold many of the values our mother held near and dear.
Though we sometimes fought like cats and dogs as children, I can only recall one argument beyond my seventeenth birthday. You were rude to me when I stopped by your dorm room unannounced and ran through the bottom floor ten minutes later looking for me so that you could apologize.
After that, we had disagreements, which were merely divergences, but we never allowed anything to make us so mad that we couldn’t still be friends. Eventually, we taught each other that no disagreement was worth harsh words or showing sour temperament to the other, so we simply learned to let things go.
I just wrote the words “taught each other.” And, I realize that I say that because you began to tell people how smart you thought I was once we were adults. You never hesitated to tell me how proud you were of me and brag to people about how talented I was and how much potential you thought I had.
You have no idea how much that meant to me or how high your compliments buoyed my self esteem. Especially since you and I know that you have always been the smarter brother.
I followed you to Washington, DC and left before you did. When you moved to California, it didn’t take too long for me to follow you there as well. But as we grew older, I discovered that I wasn’t doing the things you were doing simply to mimic you—I was doing those things because they made sense. In many ways, we were a great deal alike.
Everything I have done after you did those things were things I would have been lead to anyway.
And now you live on one coast and I live on the other. That makes sense right now, but neither of us will visit our hometown in the center of the nation without the other.
I remember how our mother would force you to take me places with you and how you would complain. I didn’t like it either. But I also remember in retrospect that you took me many other places without her having to ask. And I liked that a lot.
I learned a lot from being in your shadow.
From you I learned about Kwanzaa. Your high school sweetheart’s family had a Kwanzaa celebration and you took me along.
I learned much more from you about our people. You took me to buy Dashikis and we wore them proudly with our Afros everywhere, even when some confused Negroes would make fun of us.
You were the one who taught me chivalry—women walk on the inside, doors are to be held for them and even women the same age like it when a man says “yes ma’am.”
You taught me how important education was.
You taught me so much more and many of the things you taught me helped me even when you weren’t around.
Life is changing now. I am a father and I became a father before you did. But even though this is a path I will walk ahead of you, I am still looking to the lessons I learned from you about life in general and about how to treat people.
I remember that you and I were babysitters when we were scarcely more than babies ourselves and I remember the lessons I learned from you as I sit with my own son. Secretly, I hoped for twin boys so that I could name them after us both.
When I started writing this, I promised I wouldn’t quote the lyrics to “Wind Beneath My Wings,” but you really were that and yes, you were my hero and still are.
When I first grew taller than you, I used to joke about how you were now my little brother. But, really, I am proud to proclaim that the shorter brother is my big brother.
At the beginning of our journey, I thought I disliked having a big brother always around. Now, in the middle of that journey, I can’t imagine how empty my life would have been without you—my best friend, my fraternity brother and my big brother.
Even though we were poor, our mother always kept the love shining on us to keep us warm. You and I kept that going.
It was never really cold in your shadow.
Did you ever know that you’re my hero? You’re everything I wish I could be. I could fly higher than an eagle, for you are the wind beneath my wings.
—Bette Midler, Wind Beneath My Wings
Darryl James n is an award-winning author who is now a filmmaker. He released his first mini-movie, “Crack,” and in Spring of this year, will release his first full-length documentary. James’ latest book, “Bridging The Black Gender Gap,” is the basis of his lectures and seminars. Previous installments of this column can now be viewed at www.bridgecolumn.com. James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.