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September 13, 2012
This is Not a Stone
by Hannah Bird

In Romans 2:15, we are commanded to rejoice with those that rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. I thought I understood this. It’s the most basic of admonitions, so I should have gotten it. I have tried to live it. When someone is struggling or suffering, I try to help. I try to think of what they might need. As unnatural as it feels to me, I have even been known to go far as offering kind words and a hug.

In other words, I only paid attention to half the command. I thought I rejoiced with those that rejoiced. I complimented new babies (even ugly ones; I am nice like that). I congratulated graduates. I cheered on victories.

But I don’t think that I had ever truly rejoiced at someone else’s joy until this summer.

When I was a little girl, I had two older brothers. Come to think of it, I am now quite a big girl and I still have two older brothers. I also have one younger brother and three younger sisters. This was one of the saving graces of my life: I was a girl with an older brother.

He was no ordinary older brother. He teased me. He thought I was annoying (in retrospect his arguments were pretty sound). He was way cooler than me. All of that is pretty ordinary. But what was extraordinary was how much he loved me.

My family went through what we now as adults politely refer to as “a hard time.” Things broke. We broke. Important things like marriage and loyalty and love and joy were shattering all around us. But we still had to do the very hard work of growing up. It was more than I could bear. I lost my way. I am an enthusiastic person. Being completely off the right path did not dissuade me from picking up speed.

Stories like mine usually have a different ending. And that difference was in large part my brother.

He spent time with me. He talked to me. He bought me candy bars. He told me I was being an idiot. He told me to stop dating idiots. He smiled at me. We sat in his room and he taught me about music. He plays the guitar beautifully. I learned to hammer out a few fifth chords. He told me to get myself together. He told me that a smart girl shouldn’t act so dumb. And sitting in his room, listening to Kate Bush, I believed him. For a long, hard, broken moment, my brother Ollie was the ground beneath my feet.

It wasn’t just me. He did it for other siblings in our family. None of us realized how much trouble Ollie had intercepted until we were much, much older.

So I regrouped. I quit doing things that my brother said not to do. I spent a long time trying to decide if I could come back to church. I didn’t know if I still believed in salvation. But the story of an older brother sacrificing for me was just too plausible. In the end, I could not help but believe in Christ. Everything else followed from there.

So I went to a nice LDS school. I married a nice LDS man. I had six lovely little LDS babies. I had grief and struggles. I had joy and triumph. I grew. I progressed.

And my brother waited.

He waited while he watched those whom he had sheltered and protected one by one find their feet and then their path. He went to graduate school. And he waited. He congratulated our happy days. He called us on our bad days. And when he wasn’t entirely sure what to do, he sent music. And he waited.


I don’t know what it is like to wait like that. I won’t pretend I do. But it looked hard. This thing that he was better at than any of us — being part of a family — eluded him.

In May I got an email that he was bringing a woman to my house. Since my house is clear across the country from his, this was momentous. I sat my children down and explained that Uncle Ollie was bringing a girl and we were not going to scare her off. I made rules about loud noises and impertinent questions. I made rules about climbing onto and jumping off of house guests. I made rules about trying to make the house look presentable.

I didn’t need to. Within hours of her arrival, Alison had bought and distributed porcelain dolls to little girls, watched us have a fire in our barn, been climbed on by my kids and my nieces and was cheerfully sitting at the kitchen table playing a cutthroat game of slapjack with my soot-streaked teenaged son.

I could have kissed her. But I didn’t because I remembered the rules about not scaring her off.

It turns out that Alison is from a much bigger family than mine. She’s not that easily intimidated. It also turns out that she is amazing. And best of all, it turns out that we get to keep her. This September, 21 years after my brother signed my sealing certificate as a witness, I will see him get married.

This is what it feels like to rejoice with them that rejoice. And now I get it. To really rejoice with someone, you have love them so much that their joy is a blessing to you. You have to know about the sad days that came first. You have to recognize a miracle when she sits at your sticky kitchen table.

So I will still take (store bought) casseroles to those that are struggling. I will keep trying to think of what they need. I will keeping trying to say nice things and give unflinching hugs. But I will also try to love a lot bigger. I will try to love so hard that I cannot sleep for pure excitement when the waters part and the blessing comes.

It shouldn’t be that hard. I’ve had a good example. I just need to love other people the way my brother loved me.

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