When I was little, if you had asked who my favorite person was in the whole world, after my mom, I would have told you it was my brother, Dale. We were the two youngest in our family of four kids. The oldest, my sister Ann, was totally adorable with a big warm and friendly smile. Being eight years older, she mothered me, made my doll clothes, and we called her Sis. Next was my brother, Don, who was funny and wild and, according to this little girl, quite annoying. But Dale. He was just two and a half years older, mature for his age and extremely caring and sensitive. He watched out for me as we played in the rough old farm places, as he watched out for each of us. I, in turn, became his side kick when he pretended to be Zoro, fished with him at the creek, followed him around and simply adored him. As a teenager, without a dad, Dale became more than a brother. He became my mentor, my confidante, advisor, friend and in many respects my hero. He helped me navigate the awkward years of adolescence and guided me in my faith when I came to see it as mine to own. I had crushes on his friends and he dated some of mine. He taught me to play guitar and we sang together and listened to John Denver albums. We talked often and he truly loved me well. This was no small task because I was insecure, unsure of myself and quite whiny.
Dale was the first to hand me the big Alcoholic Anonymous book and asked me to consider the truth that our dad was an alcoholic. He told me that we were adult children of an alcoholic and that there were unhealthy broken places inside us. I sure couldn't argue with him on that one! He suggested that we could come to know these places better and healing could take place. He said it. I believed it. This information started my journey toward wholeness and I jumped right in.
In time, and in the healing process, I had to let go of Dale as hero. It wasn't healthy and it wasn't fair. He was just a little boy like I was just a little girl and he needed to let that little boy in him not be responsible for me. But I never gave up my fierce love, gratefulness or humble thankfulness for this truly brave and selfless warrior, sent for me and our family. I don't know what we would have done without him.
Dale went on to be a pastor, of course. I always say I was his first congregation because he learned how to shepherd little lost sheep right there in our home. And oh how I love him for it. He is also a poet. He wrote a poem every day in 2014 which, hopefully, will be a published book one day. He introduced me to Mary Oliver, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, whose poems hold a wonder of nature and beauty like none other. I get lost in her images with delight.
I love you, my dear brother. Thank you for being an honest pilgrim on your own road to wholeness. God, in wisdom, knew I needed you. I will be forever grateful.
In honor of Dale's 64th birthday today, I share his published poem from the book Simul, Lutheran Voices in Poetry, collected and edited by Mark Patrick Odland
by Dale P. Chesley
Christmas Eve Day;
A committal at a windy North Dakota prairie cemetery.
Our broken hearts suffered the weather appropriate.
A nineteen year old daughter.
A holiday tragedy.
A late night rollover.
It felt right to freeze while we buried her.
Her father is a tall man.
I am short
My arm his waist, his arm my shoulders.
At the car he turned and kissed my forehead.
I wasn't embarrassed.
I know it wasn't planned.
I felt anointed.
Few things as genuine and warm have been in me so deeply planted.
The man I sought to comfort
Reached out to me with human touch.
We stood against the cold.
Shadowed in this face I saw the suffering of Christ.