"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Baby Brother

Photo by Sam Christiansen

The baby of our family is, I think, universally adored. It’s been that way as long as I can remember. In fact, as an infant he was so adored his four older siblings once dropped him on the floor during a tussle over who was going to hold him! To this day I remember our horror. Strangely enough, I don’t remember which of us picked him up, thereby claiming victory.
Jonathan is eight years younger than me. Of all my siblings I lived with him the least amount of time, yet my memories of him as a child are very vivid. He's always been his own person, pleasant, yet quietly determined. He most definitely marched to the beat of his own drummer. I don’t really remember him being involved in many of the squabbles the rest of us siblings had. Maybe because he was so much younger he didn’t much care about what we were up to. He seemed very content entertaining himself, and would spend hours in our backyard playing in the sandbox. When he was about four years old he would plant packages of graham crackers in the sandbox, hoping they would grow into a graham cracker tree.
Although he is extremely smart, by kindergarten I think he’d already decided that school really wasn’t his thing. And no wonder, since one of his favorite pastimes as a young child was reading our encyclopedias. Kindergarten must have been awfully boring to someone so well-informed. Once when Jon was in Kindergarten I stayed home sick from school. An hour or so after he and my two younger sisters had headed off to the bus stop, I looked outside. There was Jon, playing in the sandbox! He’d decided to skip school that day and build a volcano in the sandbox instead.

When he was a little older, he went through a military phase. He wore camouflage clothing and hats, and along with his like-minded friend, constructed elaborate military compounds in the garden area out back. They really were amazingly detailed and well thought out, and always included streams and rivers that he would fill with the garden hose.
By high school, he was sporting saggy pants, earrings in both ears and a nose piercing. As his older, wiser sister, I feared for his future. Really. Which is beyond hilarious now. As my daughter has said, “Isn’t it funny that Jon turned out to be the most normal and responsible one in your family?” He would probably dispute the normal characterization, but I understand what she means. He isn’t normal though. He’s extraordinary. His life is a lesson in being true to yourself, living life on your own terms, and not conforming to other’s idea of what kind of person to be, or what kind of life to lead. I respect him for that, and for so many other things. 

By the time he was a junior in high school, he'd had enough of formal education and quit. I still remember the shock and worry that caused my parents, both of whom were teachers.
Photo by Sam Christiansen
Jon and I in Bangladesh
Quitting high school early didn’t hurt him. Not too many years later, after spending time moving around the country, working and enjoying life, he enrolled in college. A few years ago he graduated from Boston College with a Master’s Degree in Sociology. Whenever I read any of his work, such as this article, 'We Are All Workers' : Anarchism and the Narrative of the Industrial Workers of the World, I’m blown away by his intelligence, and also extremely proud. His unassuming way makes it easy to forget about his keen mind.   
Jonathan walks his talk, always. Never in an in your face way, but when he stands for something, you know it. As a Wobbly, as Industrial Workers of the World members are known, he fights for the universal rights of workers. While living in Bangladesh he advocated for the rights of garment workers there. He routinely stands up for the underdog and shows real compassion for people, regardless of their station in life. He’ll respectfully debate almost any topic with anyone. He’s pretty convincing because he doesn’t take a position on something without having thought it out and being well-informed.
Jon at an anti-war rally in 2006
He’s an amazing dad. Hands down, unquestionably devoted to his son Atticus, and has been since the moment he was born. I’ll always keep and cherish the email he sent the family announcing his birth. He also had the good sense to marry Sam (aka Dr. Samantha Christiansen), who is the perfect sister and daughter-in-law, and a much loved part of our family. He’s the favorite uncle (sorry Ryan), always right in the mix with the nieces and nephews, playing like the kid at heart he is. I’m also pretty certain he’s the favorite child, which is completely okay with me. He’s one of a kind. Our little brother, but someone we all look up to. Happy Birthday Jon! I love you. 
Jon and Sam - July 2012
Jon and Atticus, photo by Sam Christiansen


  1. Beautiful job on this! Just for the record, Jon is not the favorite child. He is very, very special to me just as all of you are. I love the love that shines through in the post. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my children interact with and love each other.

  2. Keicha, I'm completely impartial as a person who knows none of you "in person," and who simply observes from a distance via your blog and your mom's. I have to say I think you are all remarkable. Period.

  3. Oh, Keicha, what a beautiful tribute to your brother. He sounds remarkable and a soul who has given the world and his family a great gift. I'm thinking Dr Sam is a lucky woman. In fact, I think you all are.

  4. It just amazes me that your Jon is so much like my Jonathan. Wow! Same sort of feeling about schooling and everything. Jon is now getting his masters in International Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins which is why he's in Bangladesh. I hope he has a child some day soon also.


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