I am not really much of a crier. Sure, sometimes there's a Publix commercial or yes, every single episode of Parenthood and The Wonder Years, but overall, I don't cry that much. I cry mostly when things move me, when I see something sad or beautiful or heartachingly happy. But it's not often, not really, and it's certainly not something I do in public.
But Saturday, I got tearful while ringing up a couple of people at the register.
It was this dad and his two kids, a boy and a girl. The girl was maybe 12, 13, with braces, kind of tall, thin. You could tell she wasn't quite a teenager yet, still definitely in the "kid" stage. Not consumed yet with coolness or thoughts of what other people think. The boy was younger, maybe 9, 10. And the way they treated each other -- kind of teasing, joking with each other -- was just the most precious thing. Maybe it's because I see a lot of kids in the store, lots of kids who clearly don't really like their siblings, or, who at the most, are ambivalent toward them. But I loved watching these kids. It was clear they loved each other, even liked each other.
They picked out their cupcakes, and their dad came over to the register to pay. I've started to keep "impulse buys" up at the register: reading glasses, Le Pens, and these really great "book lover" buttons. They're fun, and at $1 a piece, they're hard to resist. The girl started digging through the pins; she loved them. (I'd figured her for a big reader, and I was right.) While she was looking, her dad was paying. The credit card had been swiped, and by the time the girl picked out which button she wanted, it was too late. The dad looked sorry, but the girl didn't whine or anything, just shrugged her shoulders and started to leave.
But her brother stopped her. "I'll get it for you!" he said. "Pick out a couple of pens you want too; I'm going to get some."
And just like that, I started to get tearful.
This kind of stuff never happens at the register. Siblings are never that kind to each other, and -- more often than not -- they're whiney and petulant about what they can and can't have. These kids were so good-natured; I was in awe. The brother wanted his sister to get the pin she wanted, and she looked at him and smiled so happily. "Really?" she said. "Sure," the brother shrugged. Not a big deal.
And I guess it wasn't a big deal. But it reminded me so much of my brother, of my relationship with him, that it just brought tears to my eyes. Chet and I don't have the perfect relationship, and we weren't always close when we were younger. (I'm pretty sure he may still have some scars that one time I dug my nails into his arm and started to scratch...) But I think generally, we liked each other. One Valentine's Day, he left a bouquet of sharpened pencils on my desk at home. I played outside with him. He played school with me. We were friends.
These kids had that kind of relationship, I think, and it made me so happy. I figured that was the reason I started to tear up; these kids reminded me of my childhood, my relationship with my sibling.
When I got home Saturday night, I told the story to Jordan, and he smiled. "What?" I asked, figuring he was probably just getting a kick out of my sentimental ways.
"That's manhood," he said. "What you saw today is how men should act. That kid was acting like a man should."
Maybe it's because I've been talking to a friend lately about what manhood looks like. Maybe it's because there's so much discussion in the Christian evangelical world about "becoming a man" and what it means to be tough and masculine. Maybe it's because there are all kinds of books devoted to the differences between boys and girls and what men need and what women need.
We forget we all need kindness. Gentleness. Grace. Generosity.
That little boy reminded me of my brother, no doubt about it. Chet hasn't been home since May, and in our close-knit family, that's odd and unusual, and I miss him. That little boy's actions reminded me of Chet, but I think Jordan's right: They also reminded me of how men should behave.
In a world where little boys grow up and make big, horrific mistakes -- mistakes that involve other human beings and hurt and pain and an overall misunderstanding on how to treat people, how to treat women -- it's touching to see someone who is being taught what to do rather than what not to do.
It's a small thing, I know. I've no doubt that brother and sister fight and quarrel and hurt each other with their words and actions. One moment doesn't define a relationship.
But I'd like to think somewhere, that boy is learning how to treat girls. I'd like to think his mother and father are trying hard to show him the way, teaching him that his words and actions affect other people. Yes, it was just a few dollars, just an on-a-whim purchase for a sister who wanted something nice. But really, it was more.
Jordan and I want children one day, maybe even one day not so far down the road. We talk all the time about our dreams for them, about what we envision for our future as a family, about the legacies we'll leave them, the things we'll pass on that were passed down to us.
We're nervous a little, too. The world our children will enter is a lot different from the one we were born into. A few weeks ago on Twitter, this Vanity Fair article was making the rounds, and I finally had to stop reading because it was so terrifying. I read bits and pieces aloud to Jordan, and we looked at each other in horror. This is what waits for our kids?
It's terrifying, but it's also a call to bring children up in a way that leads them to treat all people -- of all genders, races, and orientations -- with love and respect. If we truly believe the tenets of Jesus, if we truly claim to call Christianity ours, our children will have to look different. They'll have to act differently. I don't know what exactly that will mean. I know they will make mistakes and they will pitch fits and they will have to say they're sorry.
But I hope so desperately our children will be the ones who perform small acts of kindness for each other. I hope they will be selfless and generous. I hope they will treat others even better than they want to be treated themselves.
Jordan was right. That little boy this weekend was a reminder of what real manhood looks like. It's not about physical strength or macho behavior. It's not about fantasy football or who's in charge of the remote or the six-pack waiting in the refrigerator.
It's about the jokes they choose not to tell. It's about the words they choose not to speak. It's about looking out for others. It's about showing kindness. It's about grace.
And isn't that true for just about everything?