Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Moment for Reflection

I suppose that you could consider this entry to be a continuation of my previous entry for several reasons.  First, this entry centers around one of my brothers.  Second, it contains references to sports, so it is sure to have more appeal to male readers, if I ever have any.

This entry is a bit of a break from the normal for me as it carries a bit more emotional weight to it, but please don’t be put off by it.  I promise not to get too sappy.

For those of you who are casual readers and have not spent much (or any) time with me, you may not be aware that for almost 20 years of my life, I had two younger brothers.  In my mind, this is still true, but for those of you who demand that I be realistic, it isn’t.

Three years ago Sunday, my youngest brother (Matthew) passed away unexpectedly at age 19.  He was two weeks (exactly) from his 20th birthday and was a sophomore in college.  I could go into the sad and poignant details of that period of time for me and my family, but I would really rather focus on who my brother was and what made him so awesome. 

I could go on forever with stories and memories about Matthew, but for this entry I will restrain myself. 

One of the things that most people acquainted with Matthew would know is that he had wide knowledge of professional sports.  In my immediate family, this made him a bit of an anomaly.  My father has an understanding of professional teams, at least in MN, and at least knows how most sports are played.  My other brother, Michael (the WoW geek), has an even more faint awareness of this area.

Actually, it’s more than likely that I have a better working knowledge of sports than Michael, and that is not saying much.

Beyond my immediate family, this trend does not hold true.  My uncles and cousins (and even some of my aunts) follow professional and college sports with a great deal of interest, and my grandfather used to coach high school teams when he was in his prime.

I am not certain where Matthew’s keen interest in all things sports related originated, but he was quite young when it started.  Perhaps it was due to his excess of energy.  The boy literally bounced off the walls when he was a child. 

There were seven years of age difference between Matthew and myself, which meant that while I was a surly teenager, he was still an optimistic and bubbly child.  This difference was perfectly illustrated on Saturday mornings. 

Already the budding sportscaster, my brother would watch ESPN Sportscenter religiously.  Coupled with the fact that he was extremely intelligent and had excellent recall for facts, he often found himself overflowing with game statistics and scores.

As any former teenager can attest, sleep is a very important commodity when one is in high school.  It is not uncommon to find the need for more sleep manifested in the weekend ritual of “sleeping in.”  I frequently participated in this ritual myself (and sometimes still do). 

Unfortunately, while I was deep into the habit of sleeping until noon on Saturdays, my youngest brother had the inner alarm clock of a 70 year-old.  This meant that he was normally up and starting the day by at least 7 a.m.  As the older members of my household were not normally up that early, he had to find ways to entertain himself that didn’t involve breaking things or crashing around on the furniture.  This led him to ESPN. 

By the time he would finish catching up on all the previous day’s major sporting outcomes, he was full to the brim with new knowledge and was itching to repeat it ALL to someone who would listen.  

I believe that this is where my mother or father may have entered into the equation.  My parents did not entirely sympathize with my need to get obscene amounts of sleep on the weekend, and they had an arsenal of various methods to force me into the waking world.  I could probably write an entire blog entry about these, and maybe I will at some point.  They definitely scream for illustration.

For this particular situation, it went down as follows.  My brother would quietly come into my room where I was still sleeping (probably around 11 a.m.).  He would sit down on the end of my bed and without introduction would begin to recount a lengthy synopsis of what he just seen and heard on ESPN.  Believe me when I say that he was detailed.  Specific plays were outlined from baseball games, different injuries were described and playoff standings were updated.

I attended to most of his chatter in a half-awake stupor, which made me an ideal audience.  I was too groggy to interrupt and I was not mobile enough to walk away.  After his recital, he would usually stop and look at me to make sure I was starting to wake up.  I don’t think he ever tried to quiz me on his lectures, but I’m pretty sure he would ask me when I was planning to finally get up.  This was likely prompted by my parents, but I believe he was always a little mystified at how anyone could possibly sleep so long.

Over the years, his sports obsession played out in different ways.  While Michael was getting into the world of role-playing games, Matthew remained devoted to his sports-themed video games.  He was much more interested in playing sports, although his competitive nature made it a little difficult for us to play with him until he brought his tantrums under control.  J

My final anecdote in this entry is from a period of time several years later.  After college, I immediately entered the corporate working world.  One of the time-honored traditions of an office atmosphere, I learned, was the notion of the “office pool.”  This refers to any instance when coworkers each contribute money to a general “pool” after making their “picks” of winners for different competitive events.  Typically, the events are athletic in nature, although it has been known to extend to baby birth date predictions and American Idol winners.

In the U.S., one of the biggest events for the “office pool” scenario occurs in March for the NCAA Mens’ Basketball Tournament.  The common term for this phenomenon is “March Madness.” 

During my second year at the company, I decided to take the plunge and join the fun.  Unfortunately, I had not followed ANY college basketball at any point in my life.  I pondered several options.  I could simply randomly choose teams that sounded interesting or I could pick my favorite mascots.  In the end, I decided to consult an expert.

My brother was in high school at the time.  When I called home to speak with him, I expected him to quickly rattle off a list of team names.  It was a bit of a surprise to me that our conversation took much longer as he sat and mentally evaluated each potential match-up through the entire bracket.  He went through his process with me out loud, although I had no idea if he knew what he was saying.

After about 20 minutes of intense pondering, we had our list.  I was unaware at the time, but my brother was also in a pool with his friends and this was to be his official list as well.  To make this story short, we both won our respective pools that year.  My coworkers were seriously impressed, even after I admitted that I had some assistance. 

Every year thereafter, I made sure to track down my brother for help with all sports-related betting.  We never won again, but for the next five years, I listened on the phone as he carried on his decision process out loud to help me make more informed choices. 

Even though I no longer have any kind of expert advice, I continue to participate in the March Madness pool at work.  In the absence of any meaningful help, I have looked to the experts at ESPN for some guidance, and I usually finish in the middle or near the top of my group.  While this isn’t victory, I would like to think that something in Matthew’s process rubbed off on me along the way.

Thank you for letting me share a little bit about my brother with you today.  I prefer to spend the anniversaries of his death not in dwelling on the intensity of remembering that specific event.  My brother was a dynamic personality, and I infinitely prefer to remember him for who he actually was and how he influenced my life.  If you knew him yourself, you know what I mean, and if you were not fortunate enough to have the privilege, I hope that my short stories can give you a glimmer of what I miss so much every day.

I added this after initial publication.  It's a drawing I did to illustrate the college hairstyles of the children in my family, but it also shows the relative height difference between us as adults.  For scale purposes, please note that I am 5'9" and you can guess at the boys from there.

1 comment:

  1. You still sleep in when you can for as long as you can!! But the pups have taken the place of Smatty as your alarm clock!!