The first time was when I was nineteen. I had finished making a large, nine panel collage that I was quite proud of. I had spent many hours cutting and gluing colorful and shocking pictures out of magazines ranging from Art in America to Ladies Home Journal to National Geographic. A friend of mine who worked at a local frame shop had supplied the frames for it. This piece was the first multi-day, large scale object I had ever made, and I was quite proud of it.
After I finished hanging it up, my brother came to my apartment for a visit. He was visiting from the east coast, where he was attending a culinary school, learning how to be a chef. I was sitting in my pajamas on the awful pine green shag rug in the middle of my living room, staring at my art and feeling very proud of myself when my brother came in, and I asked him what he thought. He looked at me on the floor, at the collage on the wall, back at me, and said, "you know, Sara, sometimes too much complacency can be a BAD thing."
It hit me like a kick in the gut. I had expected that he, like everyone else, would express admiration, love, even pride. But this is not my brother's way. My brother fully believes that there are some things people absolutely need to hear, even if it makes him sound like an asshole when he says it.
Several days later, I realized he was right. I had had time to take stock of my life; I was living in an apartment with two guys in Chicago, waiting on tables, going to a community college, and partying on the weekends. I was living a life of non-direction. I was living a life of non-action. Within three months, I decided to move to Portland. Within eight months, I was gone. It was the first step into a larger world, which I might or might not have taken if my brother had not said what he said to me, and for that I will always be grateful.
The second time was in my twenties. I was visiting my brother and his girlfriend in Chicago, and his phone rang. It was our mom. The phone rang and rang, but he didn't answer it. I was shocked and kinda pissed. For many years, I had been the messenger for my parents with Josh. He didn't talk to them much so they both would ask me how he was, what he was doing, and most importantly, why he wasn't calling them back. It was very frustrating as it made me feel like I was less important, and I also caught a lot of their grief for Josh's behavior because he was smart enough to not be around to answer for it.
We got into a bit of an argument about it, actually. I told him how I always had to tell our parents about him, how they took out their frustrations on me, and how I was sick of deaing with them for him. His response was annoyingly simple." No one is forcing you. I have no desire to deal with them and I don't really want to talk to them." It was stunning to me, that my brother had the presence of mind to make this decision for himself. I always answered the phone calls of my parents; my entire family for that matter. I honestly never thought to not answer. I never thought to just let it ring and to talk to my parents when I was good and damn well ready.
From that moment on, I felt free to choose not to. I felt free to have my own space. My perspective shifted in a way that shook me. It was a liberating moment that changed the rest of my life, and still does, even to this day. It was the first time I realized I could set boundaries with anyone I wanted to in order to get some space and some sanity.
These are just two of the conversations I have had with my brother that have freed me. Two of the conversations that have changed me so that I could handle my life with more confidence and less dependence on others. I have had many other conversations of varying lengths and depths, but these two are important because they taught me larger lessons about life and how to be aware of the choices I make. They helped me understand that I am in charge of my own happiness.
Very recently, I made a video about mentors and role models. Princess Leia was my example.
When he said these hard things to me, I listened. I reflected. I put my pain aside and decided to listen to the message. He was one of the first people to do this for me; trust in the strength of our relationship enough to tell me something that would help me. Risk a bit of pain up front to hopefully make the big picture better. I learned from my brother that this was something you could do for people you love, maybe even people you only care about.
That is why I have decided that 2016 is The Year of Speaking Dangerously. It is the year I will handle my fear of rejection and say what needs to be said anyway. It is the year I will listen with my heart and not my head. It is the year I will say what I believe needs to be said in order to make the world a more just and wonderful place. How about you? What are you doing to improve yourself and the world you live in?