I was talking on the phone to my brother the other day, and, as often happens these days, our conversation turned to such cheery topics as bodily deterioration and death. There was a time we talked about our parents, our careers, or our current girlfriends; but now we are well into our 60s (in my case, about as well into them as you can be), and those topics are not relevant to our lives as we slowly (I hope) walk the road to oblivion.
Keeping our upbeat mood going, my brother said that he had just seen an obituary in the New York Times, a rather lengthy one at that, for someone he had once gone out with when he was a graduate student and she was a senior at the same university.
After we talked, I looked at the paper and found the obituary. It wasn’t one of those paid ones; it was one of the very few the Times publishes as actual stories in each issue. She was definitely a very impressive woman, and in the photo she looked very pretty too.
The next morning I was talking about this with my wife, and I said, plaintively, “I can’t think of anyone I went out with who’s had an obituary in the Times.”
My wife said, “Really, Mark, is that where your sibling rivalry has taken you?”
Okay, yeah, but what does she know? She’s an only child.
Does anyone with siblings not experience sibling rivalry? I’m talking mostly about same sex siblings (or sss’s, as they are never called). I think it’s much easier if you have a sibling of the opposite sex. Generally speaking, if you’re a boy, your beautiful sister is not going to be attracting the girls you desire. But believe me, if you’re a guy with a good-looking younger brother, you’re in trouble.
But that was then. Now we are both what in Yiddish are called “alta kakas,” a wonderful term which, if I were President, I would do everything in my power to have replace the very serious-sounding “senior citizen.” It used to be competition over grades and girls, but now it’s usually over blood pressure and cholesterol readings, and who’s got less back pain.
I want my brother to be healthy and able-bodied, just not more so than me.
But my feelings about the woman he once dated having an obituary in the New York Times shows that the old stuff hasn’t been fully forgotten. We are both happily married, so I don’t think there’s any rivalry there, but we do have a past, and I’ll be darned if I can handle him having a better past than me! Sure, we’re supposed to live in the present, but who does, especially when your present is filled with aches, pains, and doctors’ visits? So it’s essential to have a fascinating past, and I am concerned sometimes that my brother’s past is more fascinating than mine.
Talking about pasts, let’s get back to obituaries. Many of us, as we age, wonder if we’ve really succeeded in life, and I have come to believe that the most objective measure of this is whether or not you get an obituary in the Times. There are only about three to five a day in there, so in a year that’s well under 2,000. Even if these were only Americans (and they’re not), since there are about 2.5 million U.S. deaths a year, it would mean that to be honored by an obituary (and I’m not counting people like Charles Manson, who will probably get one) means that you are in the top tenth of one percent. You are literally the one-in-a-thousand.
Of course, in terms of sibling rivalry, it’s no fun to get one. Not only can you not see your sibling’s face when he or she reads all the great things they say about you, but you can’t say, as you would love to, “Hey, bro, check out the Times’s obituaries today! Guess who’s in there!” Of course, if you are famous enough, your sibling could get one just for being your sibling, and how great would that be for you!
If there is a heaven, and you’re both in it, you could talk about that for eons!