There is a picture on my phone that I look at every now and then. It’s a photo of a photo of my little brother a few hours after he was born; this frankly terribly low-res photo of this itsy-bitsy baby bundled in striped pink and blue sheets making some odd face I cannot really comprehend. I think of his tiny, darling fingers trying to touch my young face, and my heart cannot help but swell. Moments come, moments go, and of the few really memorable days of my life, that evening when I became a big brother stays afloat.
He was probably my first real companion, and I was definitely his. We spent a lot of time in each other’s company, enough to feel like the other was a part of who we were individually. It’s a very fascinating dynamic — seeing someone live for the first time, while trying to simultaneously trying to really make sense of things yourself. But there is an effect at play here, and that is one of idealization. Due to the age difference and cultural norms, there exists this subtle sort of information and experience gap. It’s this feeling that we cannot tell the other everything, we cannot share every thought or experience fearing it would not be understood or it would be inappropriate. All of which leads to creating an image of the other in your head where, in this case, your faults are minimized and strengths doubled, an asymmetrical relationship of truth and fantasy.
You have expectations and ideas placed upon you, you are some idealized version of yourself, and there is a particular pressure that accompanies that. I want to note that this is different from having expectations set from school and friends and parents, and it is different in a way I did not understand when I was growing up. I carried around this idea that my behavior, my actions, my preferences will be studied and scrutinized, and this honestly removed a certain degree of freedom from my life. I had influence I did not earn, but rather stumbled upon. I will admit there were a few times when I struggled with this power. I was trapped by these ideals, where I felt I couldn’t do anything I wanted because there was a tiny person listening and watching intently.
Now, a littler older, I think I understand my role better. I understand that a younger sibling looks up to you because they can’t help but look up to you. An innocent yet pure regard that comes from a love much too deep to be taken for granted. A respect for that takes perhaps much too long for an older one to truly understand. Alas, he cannot help being a little brother, and I cannot help be an older one. All I can do is try to honor my role.
One learns many lessons of responsibility and understanding by taking care of someone who doesn’t know any better. There is perhaps one thing of significant value that I believe I have gained. By having responsibility over someone, taking care of them, protecting them, you start to lose this idea of your own importance in the world. You start to do what’s best for them, doing all the day-to-day sacrifices because you know it makes him happy. You let him have the last slice of pizza, feeling happier that he gets to have it. You learn to let go of the petty. By putting someone else ahead, you begin to realize that life isn’t limited to you. You slowly begin to inhabit a world where you are no longer the center — you gain a generosity of spirit.
I realize now that this is how things simply are, that I am an older brother and I always will be. Yes, my life is never going to ever be as free as it might have been before, but at least I will never really be alone. I will forevermore have a little companion who I will always love and who will always love me. That’s a cost I’d pay with a smile.
I hope, someday, this gap diminishes while the respect we have for one another remains — that not too long from now we’ll be closer than we ever could be as children. Regardless, I sincerely hope that little baby becomes better than me in all every way, shape and form — I hope he becomes happier, stronger, smarter, braver and taller. Well, perhaps not taller. After all, I am the bigger one.
Bharat Nair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.