Today is my brother’s birthday. We won’t worry about how old he is because Gary is the living embodiment of the old cliche, “age is just a number.” Without getting too sappy, here are some very brief reflections on our relationship and friendship. This really will not even scratch the surface.
The Meade household was governed by love. There is just no other way to say it. Growing up, all three kids (I have a sister, Melissa, who I have always called “Missy”) loved each other, respected each other, and enjoyed being around each other. Oh sure, we would have our occasional disagreements, but they were few and far between. All three of us kids have a unique and special relationship with the other; each relationship is different. Mine and Missy’s is not like her’s and Gary’s, etc. Such a home atmosphere is rare and we are all blessed to have had parents who care more about family than anything else.
Gary is 7 years older than me. It has been interesting to experience how those 7 years of separation have changed over time, where today it is as if they don’t exist. Growing up, Gary never really treated me as an annoying younger brother (which I’m sure I was to some extent). He would take me with him to the arcade at the mall on Friday nights (when arcades were cool), would act interested in my wrestling fascination (see my post on Macho Man Randy Savage), and was a pivotal part of some important markers in my life. For example, Gary taught me how to ride a bicycle in Danville, KY, introduced me to the power of 80’s music, and helped me understand the finer details of building a tree house. But what is most significant during my younger years is how Gary was responsible for pointing me in the direction of two of my favorite loves and life pursuits: Tennis and guitar.
In the driveway of 429 High Ridge in Kingsport, TN, Gary handed me a tennis racket and proceeded to teach me the rules and scoring of “driveway tennis.” After about an hour of play, Gary walked into the house where my mom and dad were sitting at the kitchen table. “Uh, Philip’s pretty good at this” he said to them. “We need to get him lessons.” A week later I was introduced to Reedy Toney, the tennis pro at Ridgefields Country Club, who after one lesson told my dad, “this is my new boy. He needs to quit baseball and be with me twice a week.” And I did. For the next 12 years tennis would be a daily part of my life, traveling all over the country in the summer as a junior, playing four years high school tennis, and paying for college with tennis scholarships. That all happened because of Gary.
In an eerily similar experience, my family visited Gary in Nashville, TN during his first year of Law School at Vanderbilt University. I will never forget the picture – as we drove up to the Americana Apartments, Gary was watching for us from his apartment window. He had an acoustic guitar strapped around his neck. For that weekend, I didn’t put the guitar down. Gary showed me the first song I ever learned on a guitar, “The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald.” Again, he mentioned to my mom that I seemed to have a natural talent for guitar. Although drums ended up being my first instrument of choice, I always loved the guitar and would play it regularly. Eventually my musical tastes and preferences would differ greatly from Gary’s, but I nevertheless recorded two albums with a successful Christian rock band, toured the country, and had my music aired on national radio. He was a big part of that.
But it is in the last several years of our relationship that I am most thankful for my brother. Gary and I have a relationship that would no doubt be the cause of envy among brothers all over the world. We speak to each other on the phone 2-3 times a day – every day. We have experienced some unforgettable memories together, from the memory making fishing trips with our dad on Cherokee Lake to the bizarre run at Laser Quest in Nashville, TN (he is still a devoted Laser Quest player), to our uncanny ability to have memorized every line in the Mel Brook’s movie canon, to the recent discovery that we both find Magic Johnson’s commentary on ESPN to be downright hilarious (I want to speak right now to Derrick Rose – Derrick, you are a great, great player, but you have to learn to step up down the stretch in the post season, just like Larry and I did in 1985).
As great as all those things are, what amazes me most to this day is how much Gary and I think alike. Let me be clear – we are very, very different in many ways. Some of those ways are incredibly important and establish worldviews that are in somewhat conflict with one another. And yet, Gary would be the first to defend me, my passions, and respect my decisions as to my faith, family, and life. In some ways, we couldn’t be more different. But I appreciate and respect him probably more than he knows (I don’t know many people who are more guaranteed to do the right thing than my brother). So, it is so fascinating how two people who embrace very different things at one level can think so much alike at another level. Whether it is something on television, something that is said at a family get-together, or something that involves a bit of philosophical contemplation, Gary and I have given each other “the look” from across the room more times than can be counted. It is the look that says, “I know what you’re thinking.” And even in the times when we don’t agree, we can usually know how the other person is processing the information and make the argument for them. Yep – we are pretty darn tight.
Right now, I want to talk directly to Gary (a la Magic Johnson). I love you brother. I’m thankful for you. At the end of my life, however short of a vapor that may be, our relationship will be at the top of my list of things that made my life something extraordinary. The good news is, there is much more to come.