by Terri Ruhter
Phil hugs me tightly before we’re seated
At the chain restaurant of his choice.
It’s such a viselike squeeze, such an eager embrace
That I am left breathless.
This kid brother of mine - the one I didn’t see
For years, the one my siblings and I didn’t contact
Because he was needy, alcoholic, angry, so high maintenance
That a phone call or text message left us drained -
Is showing a different face.
My husband and I are treating Phil and his girlfriend to dinner,
Checking in on him in a noblesse oblige kind of way
Because Phil is the prodigal son of our family,
The one who drank, overspent, lost his job, lost his driver’s license,
Got evicted and became homeless in Minnesota,
Land of 10,000 lakes where the cold in winter
Hits your face like a frozen fist.
He is the one who squandered his inheritance
And never made it home before his father died,
Leaving it up to us, his brothers and sisters,
To welcome him back.
But we never did.
This is not to say we didn’t have A PLAN.
We gave Phil plenty of advice over the years:
Downsize, cut your expenses, get rid
Of that useless stuff in storage, go into rehab.
We were full of shoulds and incensed when he
But the Phil we met at Red Lobster
Was a man transformed, weepy but
Full of gratitude for his job of six years,
Redefined by the purpose and status it offered,
Redeemed by the most unlikely of saviors,
A middle manager at a top five bank.
This stand-in for the prodigal son’s father, or maybe for Christ himself,
Took a chance on my brother, hiring him and saying:
Phil, I wish I had more employees like you.
Manna from heaven to a man starved for grace.
My takeaway from Phil’s story
Is that you never change a soul
By telling him what to do.
But you might alter him forever
By telling him he’s worth something.
Was the proof in the pudding?
We were all too full for dessert,
But when the bill came
Phil picked up the tab.