My husband and I recently entertained his older brother at our vacation home, a cabin in the Uintas. All of us grew up in these mountains—summer family camping trips, fishing adventures for my husband and his brother, and for me, weekends with my sisters at our grandparent’s cabin.
We had dinner last night on the deck, which overlooks a valley of aspen, firs, and pines. Sunlight turned to dusk and then moonlight. We gathered around the firepit as it grew colder, wrapped in blankets. These mountains, a sub-range of the Rockies, are the perfect place to escape when summer scorches Salt Lake City.
Our conversation ambled from the constellations appearing above us, to our dogs, and our families. And then it took a turn to politics. The ease of the evening turned prickly.
My husband and I voted differently in the last election than my brother-in-law. We disagree on many issues, get our information from different media outlets, and identify with opposing ideologies.
I wonder if the conversation, which we know we should avoid for obvious reasons, devolved too because of old brotherly competition. The volume of the conversation grew so loud that I worried our neighbors a few acres away would hear this political face off and mistake it for an angry brawl.
And we still sat under the stars. The moon rose on the western horizon, a waxing crescent.
Our dogs lay next to each other. The deer, moose, and fox were surely bedded down for the night, as well as the hawks, hummingbirds, and chipmunks.
But the humans, oh the humans.
I’d stepped back from the conversation to observe. Not because I’m immune to the fury of politics, or family dynamics that sometimes emerge in gatherings. I just had a little more distance so I could separate from the conversation, and listening, I felt sad.
The next morning, my husband rose and made his brother a cup of coffee. They seemed sheepish after the night before. My brother-in-law helped my husband with a project in the garage, and then they took the dogs for a walk while I made a cinnamon coffee cake.
Like most families, these men share a history that no one else can really understand. They laugh about cold winter mornings in their childhood home, and the need to feed a woodstove as fast as possible. They roamed every inch of the small town they lived in, and saved coins for candy at a favorite drugstore with an old soda counter. They’ve both raised two daughters. They mourn the early death of their mother.
They’re better together than divided.
Author Arlie Russell Hochschild writes about this division in America in her book Strangers in Their Own Land. A sociologist, she sought research that aimed to understand the emotions that underlie politics. She says that “our polarization, and the increasing reality that we simply don’t know each other, makes it too easy to settle for dislike and contempt.”
I saw a flash of this in my own home over the weekend, but I also saw my husband and his brother turn back to love. Despite the divisions we feel in our families and our communities, don’t we want the same things at the end of the day: a life of our own making, a world that is safe for our children, and a mountain range to escape to sometimes in the summer?
Lisa is a wife, mother, and writer. She’s also the creator of Figuring Out What’s Next, a course that helps you make your next life transition a wee bit easier.