Under the Skin
How my brother's fourth high-definition TV re-opened my eyes to spirituality.
People differ. Take my brother TC and myself. TC is fifteen years older than me and lives in Atlanta. We didn't see too much of each other when I was a kid, and with all those years between us he often feels more like an uncle than a brother.
The differences go far beyond our age gap though. When I talk to TC on the phone--as I do every couple of weeks or so--I'm constantly surprised at how opposite the two of us are, especially considering all those genes we presumably share in common. I'm dreamy, impractical, and disdainful of worldly matters (I write for a living, which is pretty much the definition of impracticality, and I do much of that writing for a magazine about angels, which in my book is about as otherworldly a writing job as you could ask for). TC, on the other hand, is down-to-earth and sensible. He was a stockbroker for years, and while he's no longer involved in stocks today, he still spends much of his time thinking about technology, world economics, and other such un-poetic, un-spiritual, real-world concerns; stuff that I, in contrast, couldn't care less about. I've never asked him outright, but I'll bet he doesn't believe in angels either.
TC also talks like a stockbroker. Whereas I'm always shifting back and forth from emphatic enthusiasm to tentativeness and doubt (a reflection of my general distrust of the material world and my deep desire to get up and out of it as much as possible), TC always talks like he's pitching you on a hot stock idea. Enthusiastic is the only gear he runs in.
The last time I spoke to TC, I asked how things were going with the hamburger franchise he'd recently started (another case of our difference right there. I no longer eat meat, and in any case could no more run a hamburger business than I could pilot the Space Shuttle).
"Things are going pretty good with that," he said. "I'm at the store right now picking up another high-definition TV for the new office."
"Don't you already have two of those things at home?" I asked.
"Three," he said.
"What on earth," I said back, "do you need a fourth one for?"
"Because I watch them all the time!" he said, as if speaking to someone who was still living in the Stone Age. "Whatever I'm doing--business or anything else--I've got to have one on."
Normally this would have been the point where I stopped asking questions and just changed the subject. But the idea of someone wanting to have a TV--a TV of any kind--on in the background all the time was so completely unfathomable to me that I had to press things a little further.
"So what do you watch on these things?" I asked. "CNN? Football games?"
"No," my brother said back. "Nature shows."
I wasn't sure I'd heard right.
"What are you talking about?" I asked. "You really watch nature shows all day?"
"I have to!" TC said. "Have you seen one recently?"
I had to admit I hadn't.
"Well you wouldn't believe how they look. The cameras they've got now are incredible. And the photographers bring you in so close. The stuff they can film would blow your mind. It's like being right there--right there--with the animals. When I've got one of those shows on I feel like I'm not just here in Atlanta but down at the bottom of the ocean or out on an African lake. It's too gorgeous not to watch all the time."
TC didn't sell me on buying a high-definition TV for myself with that call (and in any case I think they cost way too much for someone in my income bracket to just march out and purchase on a whim). But he did remind me of how easy it is to lose sight of a truth that, as a rarefied spiritual writer, I would presumably want to remember at all times: people are never entirely who--especially in my lazier moments--they seem to be on the surface. In his worldly way, my brother is really every bit as quirky and other-worldly a soul as I fancy myself to be.
He even manages to be so unselfconsciously--a trick which I, clearly, am still working on.
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