Jon Brooks was always everyone’s favorite.
Ask my dad. Ask my grandmother. Ask either of his brothers.
Or just ask Jon. I’m sure he will tell you. He’s never lacked confidence, and truth is truth.
I should be perfectly clear I’m not joking about Granny. One day, sitting at a table at one family gathering or another, without prompting, she announced that Jon was her favorite. I’m pretty sure it was my birthday.
Jon truly was everyone’s favorite.
It brings me no joy in saying this, but I think you have to admit the timing is delicious, as we are gathered here today to celebrate Jon, but for many of you, if not most of you, this is your first experience seeing Jon’s cousin, who also happens to be my newborn baby. As great as Jon is, babies are squishy and sweet and holdable, and while I guess you could cradle Jon, I’m not sure anyone outside of his mother would want to entertain such a thought (although I’m fairly certain I’ve given Matt and Nate photo ideas).
To Jon’s credit, he is pretty OK with this. Truthfully, it’s beyond OK. He has loved sharing the spotlight. He was a tremendous help in moving things at our house, and he has been joyous around Harrison.
Jon has always been at home in the spotlight. One of my favorite stories was from his first-grade year, when he had the teacher gather up some of her colleagues for a late-afternoon dance performance he had planned. This was most certainly not part of the curriculum, nor was it scheduled. No, Jon just wanted to dance … so Jon danced. Of course he would want as many people as possible to watch.
From officially sanctioned school events to “grab the camera and capture this” moments of spontaneity, Jon has entertained us and charmed us, wrapping us around his fingers but never flexing that power over us. I’m always somewhat awed and amazed to see how grounded he his, despite being proclaimed the greatest from his first moments on this planet.
He is gracious and kind, aware of his own gifts in life and how others aren’t as blessed. Beyond all the dancing, the athletics, the antics, there is the true Jon Brooks. I saw this 10 years ago this month. It is my favorite Jon story. His family was in Haiti for mission work, and in the days leading up to his eighth birthday, Jon couldn’t stop talking about his big day. There were times when his brothers and I would seek out extra work just to escape him and his talking. When the day arrived, his parents invited people from the village to celebrate, too, in part because one beloved Haitian girl, Gerline, had recently turned 4. Soon, the attention moved from our boy and onto this girl, as she plunged face-first into a cupcake.
Jon never complained. He not only never complained, he actively celebrated Gerline, sharing the spotlight before giving up the spotlight, letting her have this moment, one she’ll likely never remember and I will never forget.
Jon, this is why everyone loves you. In a lifetime of everyone putting you first, you have put others first. I hope you never change.
I started these graduation talks five years ago. So much has changed since then, including the aforementioned son. As new chapters start for everyone, I think back to Matt and Nate, as I stood in this spot, offering words of advice. Today, as much as anything, I offer words of hope to Matt, to Nate, to Jon, to Harrison, to me.
I hope Harrison gets Matt’s unflappable nature.
I hope Harrison gets Nate’s sense of adventure.
I hope Harrison gets Jon’s love of others (and, if I’m being honest, his dancing skills).
I hope you bond with him the way I’ve bonded with you. I hope the five of us carry that with us the rest of our lives.
And, as I often do, I will let Springsteen sum it up:
“Now there’s so much that time, time and memory fade away
We got our own roads to ride and chances we gotta take
We stood side by side, each one fighting for the other
We said until we died, we’d always be blood brothers.”
Nephews. Cousins. Brothers. Family.