Are You There? Yes, I'm Here

April 27, 2023 at 8:35 a.m.
The author's brother David and sister, Katherine
The author's brother David and sister, Katherine Michael Judge

This article first appeared in the Substack column, The First Person with Michael Judge:

The photo above was taken a few years ago, before my brother David’s kidney failure and years of dialysis began to take their greatest toll. Next to him is my sister, Kate, who, along with our mother, June, brought more than enough love and joy to David’s life in his final years to make them worth living—despite the pain and suffering of his myriad health issues—up to his last living moments.

Those moments came two nights ago—peacefully, under hospice care—in a sea of love and tenderness only a mother and sister can fathom.

As for brothers, that’s a different kind of love—a love that idolizes, cherishes, challenges, kids, and cajoles. A love that gives and takes, in turn, that struggles and competes and laughs and cries in ways only brothers can.

David and I shared a bedroom in our youth. He was always in the top bunk, just above me in the dark, and that comforted me. Night after night, I’d say to my older brother, “David, are you there?” And he’d reply, “Yes, I’m here.” And with those words I could close my eyes and sleep, knowing he was above.

This, I later realized, was a kind of call and response, a form of communication that lies at the heart of art, music, prayer, and, indeed, any attempt to truly reach another. Even a painting, silent on the wall, is the painter calling out—often over great spans of time and distance—to the viewer, standing silently before it.

But it’s when we’re suffering that call and response becomes most necessary, most essential to all that is human in us. Are you there? Yes, I’m here. As Michael Ignatieff writes in his beautiful book On Consolation: Finding Solace in Dark Times, the word consolation, comes from the Latin consolor, to find solace together.”

So, Dear Reader, let us now find solace together. Below is a poem I wrote a few years back for my big brother David Edward Judge (1962-2023)—the greatest lover of plants and animals and all that is good and kind in this world that I have ever known.

A Faraway Place
                       for my brother David
You call to inform me that the Travel Channel 
is airing a program at 9:00 or 10:30 this evening 
on “the wild edibles of Costa Rica.”
Neither of us has ever been to Costa Rica, 
nor have we, as far as I can remember, 
ever eaten wild edibles. Yet I understand 
by the tone of your voice, which I have heard
deepen and age since childhood, 
that you’re excited by the prospect of learning 
about wild edibles in a jungle 
thousands of miles away. 
You speak softly of Costa Rica, 
of wild edibles, of those things that could save us 
in a faraway place, 
if only we could recognize them.

For information on kidney disease and organ donation click here to contact the National Kidney Foundation.

Share this story!

Latest Stories

Memphis is my kind of town!
Memphis is a city with heart and a whole lot of soul. Take its pulse and register the passion, pride and resiliency that resonates through the people. This is a town where the roots of history run deep, where music beats through the city’s lifeblood and where the cultural tapestry is rich with influences from across the globe. And this is a place where visitors receive a warm welcome, and good old Southern hospitality.

I'm Nobody's Young Lady
I didn’t see red, but it was definitely hot pink around the edges

Cherished Childhood Memories
Last month's Q&A asked readers to recall their most cherished childhood memory

A Brief History of Golf in Washington
Washington's golf history dates back to 1894

Still a U-Pick, the historic Cascadian Home Farm is now an educational nonprofit
The historic property formerly known as Cascadian Home Farm opens its fields to the public for u-pick berries in mid-June