“Tony, Nikki, Ricky, Dukie, Timmy, Tammy Tina!” The list of names rolled off my mother’s tongue without hesitation or breath. It didn’t really matter who she was calling – we all listened. And usually, it was the 3rd or 4th name she mentioned that she actually wanted…followed by “you know who you are, now get down here.”
Very rarely was she ever using that tone with Duke.
Duke is one of my older brothers (by 9 years). His real name (brace yourself) is Adelard Peirre Dumaine III) but because he preferred not to get taunted relentlessly , he went by “Duke” like is father and grandfather did before him.
It was Duke who introduced me to my first self-help book in the 8th grade (ZIG ZIGLAR’S “See You at the Top”). And along with my Mom, and other siblings he was always there to push and encourage me to be the very best person I could be.
In the Summer of 1990, about two weeks before I headed off for my freshman year of college, Duke took me to a 21+ establishment in my hometown of Westfield, MA. I felt like quite the grown up sitting at the bar considering what to order. I proudly decided on a White Russian – (I was pretty sure I once overheard my sister order this). My brother knew everyone. There were lots of “pats on the back” and “hey, is this your little sister?” – I was pretty stoked to be there with him, but I tried to be as nonchalant as possible. He had a very charming manner and it afforded him a large group of friends who wanted to be around him. Duke is very much like my Mom, people are naturally drawn to him and pay close attention when he speaks.
But on this night, it wasn’t the attention of his friends he was interested in. He made it very clear that his mission was to help prepare me for the awaiting opportunities.
He started with the typical stuff – make good choices, study hard, don’t drink and drive. As the conversation grew, so did his intensity. His eyes brightened and there was an excitement in his voice.
I was a little thrown off when he asked me if I had ever bounced on a trampoline. It was obviously rhetorical as he clearly knew I was a gymnast, but I answered him with an affirmative anyway.
He asked me to remember how it felt to jump and to imagine myself doing so. I humored him and tired to remember the feeling of weightlessness and the anticipation of my feet hitting the bottom and then the thrill of the next jump.
He explained to me why it’s so important to jump high.
“Because, that’s where the best views are and where the magic happens, ” he said.
He went on to tell me that in life, I *must* always jump high. And the only way to do that is to be convinced of a constant net below. A safety net. I must always assume and KNOW that it will save and protect me when I lose my balance, jump a little too high, or land awkwardly.
The net remains forever.
He went on to say that if I foolishly questioned the presence of such net, my jumps would not be nearly as high as they might otherwise be. Lots of baby jumps with my feet barely leaving the ground. Safe jumps.
He did not want that for me. He knew even better than I the opportunity that awaited me in just a few short weeks.
I am not totally sure I grasped the full importance of the life lesson he was trying to share with me that night. But I knew from the tone of his voice and the sharpness of his eyes that he believed what he said and wanted me to as well.
“I am part of that net, ” he said. “And you better damn well jump as high as you possibly can. Never forget that we will catch you if you fall.”
I did not forget.
Whether I chose to jump high, or be safe and take smaller bounces, it meant the world to me knowing that he had my back regardless. And it still does.
In life, knowing that we will still be loved, valued, protected, forgiven or cared for when we make a mistake, allows us to take risks and stretch ourselves in ways we maybe wouldn’t have otherwise.
I am so grateful to my brother for sharing that with me at such an important time in my life.