I’ve written about being a twin before. Sharing my birthday for 34 years has been one of the greatest gifts given by God. I love being a twin. It’s so core to who I am I don’t think I fully appreciate the gravity of being a twin (Kara would confirm). For the twins and triplets out there . . . rise up!
Several elements, when added together, make me who I am. What I mean is this: There are several ingredients that make me me. That is, there are many different things that make up who I am: I am the grandson of James and Mable Graves and George and Winnie Bliss. I am the son of Phil and Kathy Graves. I am married to Kara, a beautiful young woman. Together, we have a son, Lucas whose name in Latin means “light”—which fits the color of his hair as well as the role he’s played in my life of wallowing in cynicism. We have a second son Finn, who’s stealing our hearts each day that passes. I also have one fiercely loyal older sister, Kelly, and several nieces and nephews.
I’m white. I’m 6’4”. I’m from a middle-class-suburban Detroit family. I love the Kansas Jayhawks, Detroit Pistons, and Detroit Tigers. I’m obsessed with Jewish and Christian theology, I adore U2. I still listen to hip hop because it has so much life and energy.
I’m a twin. You can’t know Jason without me. You can’t know me without Jason. Because of God’s providence, this truth is woven into our DNA. It’s literal.
I continue to reflect upon the nature of the relationship my brother and I shared growing up in the same room for sixteen years. So many memories, some noble, some probably enough to change your opinion of me—assuming it was moderately respectful to begin with. For instance …
When Jason got glasses, I was the only one allowed to make fun of him.
I remember the first fast-pitch baseball game we played in. Jason was the center fielder. I was the catcher. Jason hit lead-off because of his speed (I was never accused of having anything remotely resembling speed). The fastest pitcher in our league stood atop the mound. Gone were the days of the tee, parent pitch, or the semi-trustworthy pitching machine. This was a real live human. The pitcher got the sign from the opposing catcher. He reared back, and threw a fast-ball that hit my brother square in the back.
Jason was a great defensive player but his confidence in the batter’s box never recovered. Aside from being scared myself, I wanted to pummel that pitcher. However, our family had this spiritual reputation to live up to because my dad was a minister.
When Jason and I were in middle school, we spent hours each day in the driveway playing basketball. We had crazy wonderful imaginations. We imagined ourselves already as heroes and superstars. We saw ourselves as more than thirteen-year-olds with pimples and changing voices.
I was Larry Bird taking the fade-away game-winning jump-shot at the buzzer: “The crowd goes crazy as Josh Graves has just won the state championship for L’Anse Creuse North High School!”
My brother was the great point guard, John Stockton, who makes the game-clinching steal, the winning basket. This precise scenario actually occurred when we were in seventh grade, in a real game, and he chose to take the game-winning shot while the play was designed for me! (Josh would want you to know here that he’s the one who made the shot, and now that we’re grown up, his brother needs to get over it.)
In high school, I witnessed my brother emerge as an all-state tennis player by sheer force of will, and practice sprinkled with pretty good genes in the hand-to-eye coordination category (although he doesn’t play as much as he’d like, he hits the ball longer and straighter than anyone I know). I spent many summer mornings standing at the net while my brother fired missiles at my head in the name of “tuning my game, bro.”
I recall Friday nights, getting ready to head the next sporting event, or to the latest party, watching my brother retreat into his introverted self. I was insecure. I had to be around people to feel good about myself. Jason was an introvert; he was fine to be alone. He would rather stay home, watch Bruce Lee (partly to plan his revenge on me) and eat candy.
I decided to stay in Michigan to play basketball for a small liberal arts college. Jason went to Oklahoma to play for a university with a stellar tennis program.
I’d known for several months that the day of his departure was fast approaching. I ignored it, pretending, as we all do, that a painful thing might go away if we pretend like it doesn’t exist. The day came. My brother was ready to head seven hundred miles south, without me. As the car rolled out of the driveway, I had difficult time breathing. I rarely talk about this but it’s probably time now that I’m in my thirties. Sitting in my church office several years later, I still get choked up remembering that moment. I felt a huge weight on my chest. I cried. No, actually, I wept. There’s a difference. It was one of the few times in my life I cried like some women cry when watching a Nicholas Sparks novel-turned-movie.
Looking back, I think I was overcome with emotion (which lasted the entire day and night) because of at least two reasons. First, I had a decent amount of guilt surrounding my treatment of Jason. I was bigger, stronger, and more popular (whatever that means) and I reminded him of that truth every day of his life. I was, at times, plain mean. For this and other sins, I’ve asked for his forgiveness. Second, I knew I was losing, on some level, one of the greatest gifts God had ever given me in the form of a twin brother. Even though we’d see each other often, serve as each other’s best men in our respective weddings, compete in a triathlon together, welcome children into the world, and embark on numerous road trips—things would never be the same because we can’t ever return to how things used to be. Being a father is teaching me that the days are long but the years are short. The one constant about life is that it is always changing.
Jason went to college and flourished. He became an extrovert, wore leather jackets and stylish jeans, grew his hair out long while I became an introvert and grew towards a love for history and theology (Jason’s now a successful banker). Here’s the thing I’m learning about myself: it is one thing to live life in front of God. It’s another to live life in front of God and your brother. Especially if you shared the same apartment during the first nine months of life. What a joy and privilege to have shared 34 birthdays with the same beautiful person.