Obligations & Commitments

Every Christmas my mom makes calendars using family photos taken throughout that year, and she sends these to the grandparents, and to the relatives who don’t have children of their own. And every year there’s a family Christmas photo to go along with it.

Being apart of the family Christmas photo was something I was prepared not to miss. You see, the photos are always terrible. We, as a family, are pretty much incapable of taking a good picture together.

The youngest of my brothers gives a big, cheesy smile, and opens his eyes extra wide, looking like a deer in headlights. My two middle brothers have a long-standing heated rivalry. While we’re posing for the picture, the older one will inevitably poke fun at the younger one, which is sorta like North Korea bombing South Korea: everyone tries to intervene, but really, there’s not much anyone can do; this is a problem only the two of them can deal with. They go at it, verbally, and physically, but the older one always wins, and finally my middle brother leaves.

Then we have my sister. Honestly, she is the only one who looks good in the pictures.

Then there’s me. “Mr. No-Smile,” “Mr. Thinks-he’s-too-cool-to-smile.” Or, as my parents call me, “Mr. We-spent-thousands-of-dollars-on-braces-for-you-and-you-can’t-even-give-us-a-smile?” I don’t like smiling in pictures. It feels awkward and forced.

Now that I’m away from the family again, my mom sent me one of the calenders. I looked at the Christmas card and who did I see? My sister’s boyfriend. Standing in my place.

The neighbors next door were playing their music very loudly again, and this was the song they were playing:  O Fortuna: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xscsuuKF6ZE&feature=related

I thought it fit the mood perfectly.

Obviously it’s over-dramatic, so I’m just joking. But I was pretty mad, though I can’t say it was entirely unexpected. My mom had long been including him in more and more family-only traditions, but this time she went too far. It’s a family photo. He shouldn’t be there. I said it was inappropriate. My grandma called it, “premature,” and my grandpa called it, “ridiculous.”

When things don’t go your way, it’s easy to get mad and blame people, so instead I decided to look at what I did to contribute to this outcome. For one, I’m an ocean away, so I obviously couldn’t have been in the picture. But that’s not the point.

You see, my sister is only two years younger than me, but we’ve never been close. Growing up, she’d never been interested in my interests, and I’d never been interested in hers. That’s how it’s always been. We’d never really talk or anything. We would just keep to ourselves. We’ve always had separate friends. I don’t think we’ve ever had even one mutual friend. Our rooms were right next to each other, but we grew up a world apart.

Being older than her, it’s really my job to break uncomfortable barriers and set the tone for our sibling relationship. The tone I set? Monotone.

I just never had time to be interested in her. I’ve always been ambitious and focused, setting high goals, and constantly working to achieve them. She’s never understood my dreams, and when I’d ask about hers, she’d say, “I don’t know.” I’d try to help her figure out what she wanted to do, but she just never came up with anything.

I started thinking, if a random person came up to her and asked, “What is your older brother like?” what would she say? Knowing how kind she is, she’d probably say something nice about me. But the real question should be, “How has your older brother treated you, his younger sister?”

She’d probably say, “Well…he’s kind of a jerk.”

It’s true. I can be a jerk sometimes, and my sister has probably been on the receiving end of my jerky-moments more than anyone. Our family has high standards, and whenever my sister hasn’t met those standards I’ve always been there to make sure she knew. But I didn’t really offer support. I would just deride her and make her feel bad. That’s kind of how my family encourages each other: make fun of each other when we screw up, that way we don’t screw up very often. It works to an extent, but that doesn’t make it the right way to encourage.

Now, about my sister’s boyfriend. Whenever I have to mention him, it’s never “my sister’s boyfriend,” it’s, “my sister’s ugly boyfriend,” or, “my sister’s stupid boyfriend,” or “my sister’s lazy boyfriend,” ect. What can I say? I like to be descriptive.

Why do I dislike him? Because he’s lazy. He’s not polite. He never really says anything. He never really does anything. He doesn’t ever help with anything. He’s just there. Taking up space. In our living room. And in my sister’s heart.

For example, when my sister was moving into her apartment, my family was there to help, and my sister’s boyfriend was there, sitting on the couch, watching football. My grandma looked at him and wondered why he wasn’t helping.

My sister said, “He’s taking a break. He was helping before you guys got here.” A break? Seriously? It’s not that big of an apartment. Having to make excuses for someone in what is supposed to be an “established” relationship is not a good sign.

My mom says he’s shy. I’m not exactly the most out-going person either. If someone is shy, it can be endearing. But if someone is overly shy, and rebukes attempts at conversation, it’s just frustrating. This guy wants to be part of the family? He should be the one trying to build good relations with me, not the other way around.

My dad, being the calm, collected, patient leader that he is, doesn’t say anything, but I can tell he isn’t thrilled about the guy. My mom refuses to say anything negative about Mr. Boyfriend because she’s worried it’ll cause a rift in our happy family, but I can tell she wishes he was more…talkative, assertive, confident, ect.

The thing is, I know my sister is only with him because she doesn’t want to be alone. 15 years from now, he’s gonna be fat and old, sitting on the couch watching football, while my sister takes care of the kids and the house and cooks and works. She might like him now, but is she going to like him then?

One night I tried to intervene with my sister. And by intervene I mean = try to get her to break up with him. I know I should mind my own business, but I am her older brother, so it is my business. Besides, this is exactly what the problem has been with my relationship with her all our lives: I’ve been only too happy to leave her on her own.

My plan was to calmly talk to her, but what really came out was something like, “Your family hates your boyfriend! You need to get rid of him!”

Needless to say, it didn’t go well. I’ll admit my approach wasn’t very good. It could have been thought out much better. At first she was furious, but later, I think she actually thought it was kind of sweet how I was trying to look out for her.

She didn’t say it, but if I were her I’d be thinking, “You’ve neglected me all my life and NOW you want to tell me what to do?”

Subconsciously, what really upsets me isn’t so much the fact that my sister’s boyfriend is standing in my spot in the Christmas picture, but the fact that he, the guy that I’ve been calling ugly all this time, bears a stark resemblance to me. There he is, not smiling, looking like he could care less if he were there or not. We don’t really look alike, but we look alike just enough so that our elderly relatives, when looking at a tiny Christmas card, might just mistake him for me and not even notice I’m not there.

Diving deeper into it, could it be that the things I dislike about my sister’s boyfriend are things that I also do to a certain extent?

The bottom line for me disliking him is because I don’t think he’s very good to my sister now, and I don’t think he will make enough changes to good be in the future. But I’ve never been very good to my sister either. So who am I to talk?

Sure, there were a few instances when I was there for her when she really needed it. But those moments were few and far between. When you’ve known someone for their entire life, you’d really expect more, wouldn’t you? After all this time, I don’t think my sister expects a whole lot of support from me.

I’ve always been very focused on the things that I want to do, the goals I want to achieve, and the people I want to help. But I’ve neglected certain people close to me. People who looked up to me, who expected me to be there for them, and I let them down.

This is the difference between being obligated, and being committed. When you’re obligated to someone, you do things for them, but only if you have to, and only when it’s convenient for you. When you’re committed to someone, you do things for them because you want to.

Being committed to someone means to act in greater love towards them. That means getting to know them when you would rather keep to yourself and focus on your own things. It means remaining calm and patient when they are angry at you. It means finding compassion when you feel they’ve made a mistake. It means forgiving when you feel you’ve been wronged. It means continuing to forgive when you feel you’ve been wronged many times. It means being genuinely interested in their well-being. It means not giving up on them, even if they’ve given up on you.

When you’re genuinely interested in someone, you have no problem going out of your way to do things for them. Not having time is no excuse. Everybody has the same amount of time. It’s all about how you choose to use it.

Everything I’ve ever done for my sister in her entire life has been through an obligation. From now on, it will be through a commitment.

Some of us make commitments to certain people who are important to us. But if we make commitments to everyone we come across in our lives, we can better shape the world around us. It isn’t difficult. It doesn’t take a lot of time, just a little love. It’s really just a state of mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. We can step out of our own little world, and make an impact in someone else’s. Then perhaps they too will be committed to others. In this way we might just be able to be the change we want to see in the world.

And about that picture with my sister’s boyfriend in it. When I asked my dad about it, he explained it to me in baseball-lingo, so I’d understand better: “We haven’t signed him to a long-term contract yet. He’s still trying to make the team.”

I don’t normally make New Years resolutions, but these seemed appropriate:

New Years Resolution #1:

Strengthen bond with my sister, even though we’re 2,000 miles apart.

New Years Resolution #2:

Smile more.

I’m Rob Kajiwara. Thanks for reading.

ADDENDUM:

I have to make one thing clear about my sister’s boyfriend. He’s probably going to be my brother-in-law someday, and even if he isn’t, I want to make it clear that I don’t actually think he’s ugly or stupid or lazy. Actually, I do think he’s lazy, but I can be lazy too sometimes. He’s not ugly at all. I guess he’s a good looking guy. Not that I really know what good looking guys are. He’s kinda tall, athletically built, and has good facial features. I can’t say if he’s stupid or not, since I really don’t know the guy well. See, it’s my job to give my sister’s boyfriend a difficult time. It’s what older brothers are for. If he can deal with me, then I guess he’ll be good enough for my sister. And anyway, leaders bring out the best in people. I see myself as a leader, so I should be able to bring out the best in him, too.

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