This post has nothing to do with hockey (and everything to do with brotherhood)

1.

Big question: Have you ever wanted or needed to show a friend that you care deeply for him, and yet you don’t know how?

Finding the exact words can be tricky.

·        You respect him.

·        You want to say you’re grateful for who he is in your life.

·        You’re mindful of all he’s done for you, and all that he is.

·        You want to say you’re there for him if ever he needs you in a big way.

·        You believe in him. You hope in him. You endure with him. You hardly notice when he does something wrong.

·        No matter what happens, he’s got a brother in you.

But maybe the time’s not right to say these things.

Or maybe the opportunity isn’t there.

Or perhaps having that type of a conversation between the two of you would just be weird, even though your friendship has strong bonds.

What do you do?

I recommend giving him a hockey jersey.

2.

Fact is, we live in a hard world. If we don’t have deep friendships, then we miss out big time.

Sometimes we need to resist convention and break the normal trajectories of our friendships. We need to jump hard into that arc and risk communicating something of great depth.

I was reminded of this the other day while watching re-runs on Netflix. It seemed an unlikely source of inspiration at first.

Remember that old TV sitcom Scrubs?

Actor Zach Braff portrays a young doctor named John Michael Dorian—JD for short. In the episode I watched, JD’s older brother, Dan, shows up with some bad news. Their father has just died.

The rest of the episode revolves around how JD’s friends, older brother, and coworkers struggle how to communicate their love for him, specifically in his difficult season.

Dan, the older brother, is grief-stricken. All he can do is stay in the bathtub drinking beer. He can’t say or do anything. Much less be a support for his little brother.

Another character, the angry pranking janitor, genuinely tries his hardest to show he cares. As JD is entering the hospital building, the janitor is mopping the floor. Instead of tripping JD with the mop handle, which the janitor would normally do, he lets JD pass by unimpeded. One small gesture of courtesy.

Elliot Read (portrayed by actress Sarah Chalke), is JD’s ex-girlfriend. She, too, wants to show she cares, but not enough time has passed since their breakup, and it’s still awkward between them. They share a stilted exchange in the hospital hallway:

               “I just wanted to—” Elliot says.

               “Yeah,” JD says.

               “Look—”

               “Thanks.”

               “Okay.”

               “Kay.”

Although they try hard, their conversation doesn’t connect.

3.

Surprisingly, it’s JD’s sarcastic, cold, distant-yet-brilliant mentor, Dr. Cox, (portrayed by actor John McGinley) who comes through for JD in big ways. Although not at first.

Dr. Cox’s usual method of encouraging JD is to put him down. He calls him Ginger. Daisy. Pansy. Newbie. He’s the drill instructor shouting at his young Marine to toughen up.

JD is looking to lean on his mentor for support. In one of the first scenes, JD corners Dr. Cox near the nurse’s station and asks Dr. Cox outright if he has two seconds to talk. But Dr. Cox is swamped with medical duties and he declines, much to JD’s disappointment and disgust.

Time passes, Dr. Cox reconsiders, and tries to give JD a contrived hug in the break room. But JD’s buying none of the pretense. He shoves Dr. Cox on the shoulder and tells him to back off. The next scene shows Dr. Cox striding down the hallway. Someone asks him how it went.

“I punched him in the face,” Dr. Cox says.

4.

Yet Dr. Cox has far more respect for JD than he initially lets on.

Dr. Cox realizes he needs to do something to help, something to communicate that he’s on the Same Team as JD, but he doesn’t know what. He goes to Dan, the brother in the bathtub, and tells him to snap out of it for JD’s sake.

“Let’s go over his support system,” Dr. Cox sneers to the brother. “He’s got me—an emotionally crippled narcissist, and he’s got you—an emotionally crippled narcissist who’s soaking in a tub of what has to be by now mostly your own urine. I’ve got to believe that the two of us together can make it at least half way to one legitimate adult.”

Fortunately they do. They rise to the occasion.

Together, Dan and Dr. Cox don Detroit Red Wings hockey jerseys and show up at JD’s apartment. They toss another jersey to him, sit on the couch, and switch on college football.

JD goes silent, focused on the TV. He realizes his support system has finally arrived.

Several scenes pass. They say a few words of encouragement to JD. They invite him to talk. And near the end of the show in a voice-over JD says, “Sometimes it’s not about the words. It’s just about having someone there to listen.”

5.

Those hockey jerseys.

When I watched that old rerun, that symbol stuck hardest in my mind.

If those jerseys could speak to a guy on another guy’s behalf, I think they’d say something like—

Frankly, when it comes to life, I don’t know what I’m doing a lot of times. Hey, I’m wearing a hockey jersey while watching football.

 

But I do know one thing for certain: We’re In This Together.

 

That’s why I gave you this shirt. It’s because there is no playbook on friendship.

 

All I want to do is tell you we’re on the Same Team.

At times, we are given rare windows of opportunity. People’s guards come down, and we’re permitted to say and do the things for them that communicate our deepest feelings.

Yet at other times those windows are closed or guarded. We can’t get close to that person to say what needs to be said or shown.

So here’s what I propose. Don’t wait for the funeral of your friend’s father. Don’t wait for a time of grief or crisis. Just choose this moment of everyday life and do the following. Even though it’s a metaphor, do it literally.

1)      Picture that person you care about deeply. Guess at his shirt size and favorite team. If you don’t know, then just go with Detroit.

2)      Buy him a hockey jersey. A good one will set you back a few bucks, yeah. But that’s part of the gift.

3)      Give him the jersey. You don’t need to do it in person. Mail it to him. Or leave it on his desk at work. Or maybe just toss it to him as you sit down on the couch together and switch on some college football. Show him this article to explain things if you want.

4)      That’s it. Don’t worry about saying anything more. If you talk more, then fine. But it’s not about the words …

… and, with all respect to Detroit, it’s not about the jersey either. All the jersey does in this case is act as a symbol.

It’s about respect and honor and your unequivocal bonds of brotherhood. It’s about history together and growing older in wisdom. It’s about hoping for the future, and it’s about acknowledging that another person is incredibly important to you.

You, your friend, and a hockey jersey.

Sometimes that’s all that needs to be said.

Question: What other symbols have you given friends or what acts have you done for friends that communicate a bond of brotherhood?

Preorder Marcus’ new novel, FEAST FOR THIEVES, in bookstores this September.

“Highly recommended!

A hard-edged and well-crafted novel,

with surreptitiously smart prose, confident plotting,

and characters you feel you know.

Michelle Burford,

founding senior features editor of

O, the Oprah Magazine


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