Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Editors’ Note: This is an extended and unedited personal essay. For The Daily Gazette’s official article with accompanying photos, click here.
I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see. I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my brother and I found all three.
On May 18, 2011, I peacefully slipped into reflection. I thought of time—memories passed, as well as moments yet to occur. Not as time related to me, however, but how it had tickled my family and friends, ever so gently, while I had been away. I journaled while away, almost daily—reflecting on my life, my experiences, and all the adventures and obstacles I confronted daily. On May 18, however, I decided to do something differently before writing that day’s entry. For the first time, I read what I had written previously. Beyond all of the previous day’s stories of love, drama, comedy, and tales of Don Quixote-style quests, I noticed the later entries read more and more of home, of country, state, friends, family—nostalgia. On May 18, 2011, I made no entry. My heart was no longer away; it had floated back across the ocean, and into the embrace of anticipated arms. For family; for friends; it was time to come home.
It took me leaving the country for an extended time to realize how much my friends and family meant to me, as well as to realize how inherently small and arbitrary the world can be without them. So when I began to feel this overwhelming sense of longing for my brothers and sister, it scared me. It saddened me. It made me realize that I had gotten it wrong, and that there was work for me to do in order to make it right. It’s not as if I didn’t love my siblings—of course I did! I just knew that I had gotten it wrong, which then inspired me to write this piece. I wanted to learn from people who had gotten it right and who have continued to do so. I decided to interview Swatties who agree with Maya Angelou as she writes:
“I don’t believe an accident of birth makes people sisters or brothers. It makes them siblings—gives them mutuality of parentage. Sisterhood, and brotherhood, is a condition people have to work at.”
I wanted to interview Swatties who “work” at it, and find it being something worth working for. I interviewed ten Swatties who make up five sets of siblings, and here are their stories:
The Sterngolds (Sibling Strength)
When brothers David Sterngold ’12 and Noah Sterngold ’14 first decided to apply to colleges, the two of them had similar criteria for what his potential college should fulfill. The two both wanted a school with a great academic reputation, as well as a school that offered a competitive soccer team. One thing that was not in the brothers’ respective plans, however, was that they would both find their new collegiate home at Swarthmore College.
Noah says they got along “extremely well” at times, but also confesses to “periods where we fought a lot.” David counters. He acknowledges their fighting, but he attributes it to constructive competitiveness; David says: “Noah and I were pretty competitive growing up. We played on the same teams, took many of the same classes, etcetera, and I think this is part of what helped us excel academically and athletically.” It’s as if the brothers have indirectly garnered strength from one another throughout the years—they’ve used each other to push one another into becoming the best that each could be.
The two not only share a school now, but they also share a team. As members of Swarthmore’s men’s soccer team, one must wonder if they strengthen one another on the field in addition to the classroom. According to Noah, “Just playing together for as long as David and I have means we have a great understanding on the field.” David goes even further; he says, “It actually makes us better as players, both because of the competitive aspect and because we think about the game in a similar way, so we understand each other on the field.”
I left the pair to describe one another in one word. David chose to describe his brother as: disciplined, while Noah chose: bookworm.
From the Sterngolds, I learned the importance of garnering strength from your sibling.
The Ohs (Sibling Understanding)
When I interviewed the Ohs, I immediately felt their adorable bond. John Oh ’13 and Angela Oh ’15 hail from Seattle, WA. To the naked eye, the Ohs would seem like the perfect sibling pair; it is when one puts on the specs of their past, that one sees the work that has gone into this now flourishing sibling relationship.
John, as the oldest, always “had to be the responsible one.” Although many siblings would resent the responsibility role, John reveled in it. As we spoke, John recalled memories of making his sister ramen noodles while their parents were away, because according to the both of them, Angela could never “get the amount of water right.” To John, Angela was always very much his “little sister.” After returning home from his first year of college, however, John began to look at his sister less and less as a “little sister,” and more and more as a friend. John remarks: “After coming back from college in my first year, I feel like my sister and I became more friends than older brother and younger sister.” Angela was also making changes while John was away at her soon-to-be Swarthmorian home. As she reflects, she realizes how much she “relied on him when he was around”; she recognizes, however, how she had grown, and become “more independent when he left.”
At Swarthmore, the pair makes sure to see one another at least once a week. This is easily accomplished due to their shared love of music. The two play classical instruments together on campus. Seeing each other on campus, however, is just the kind of thing that I would’ve assumed siblings would want to avoid, especially with certain social situations such as parties that can easily make life awkward for the both of them. John does admit to feeling a “bit of Older Brother Protective Syndrome,” but he is trying his hardest to overcome his protective tendencies. They both say they trust each other and respect one another’s space.
I asked the Ohs to offer some advice to siblings who have yet to achieve their level of understanding: what’s the key? John pensively responded: “I really just saw my sister grow up, and really take ownership of her own life… which triggered in my mind, that she is an adult—just having that mutual respect, and knowing that she is her own person.” Mutual respect and understanding is their key. Like with the Sterngolds, I left the pair to describe one another in one word.
According to Angela, John in one word: helpful, and according to John, Angela in one word: unique.
From the Ohs I added sibling understanding to my list.
The Diamonds (Sibling Laughter)
I began first by interviewing Sophie Diamond ‘15, not because of some well thought-out interview strategy, but because there was nothing more for the pair of us to do as we awaited the arrival of her sister—Sarah Diamond ’13. When Sarah did finally arrive, she did so engulfed in a hurricane of curious commotion. As she quickly shuffled to her seat, she exhaled deeply while scanning the room intensely with her beaming eyes; she did so, however, until her eyes met those of her sister, and at that point, the three of us laughed drunkenly. This scene, moreover, would set the tone for the remaining interview—the omnipresent laughter was not, however, something unique to that day. According to Sarah, she and Sophie were “not necessarily good friends all the time—but we laughed.”
Sophie and Sarah had not lived with one another “for years” prior to this fall semester at Swarthmore. Sarah attended boarding school in Boston, and by her junior year, Sophie was living and attending school in France. So when I asked Sophie whether or not her sister influenced her decision to come to Swarthmore, Sophie replied: “Definitely!” She goes on to say, “I was definitely a pesky kid growing up, but Sarah and I still were very close.” Although they both admit to desiring a brother in their youth, they adamantly assert that he would have needed to be a “little brother.” According to Sarah, their “relationship was very much based on age” of which, each already had their very specific role. The Diamonds concede that their “parents put more pressure on Sarah” as oldest, and the rules were heavily “toned down for Sophie” as the youngest. There were very “huge expectations for me,” Sarah offers. When Sarah left for boarding school, however, things changed. According to Sophie, “it was awful,” she was losing her “best friend.” Retrospectively, however, Sophie realizes how much Sarah’s absence left space for her to “blossom.”
Naturally, Sarah was “super, super, super excited when Soph decided to come to swat.” She had not witnessed this new, “blossomed” Sophie, and was excited to have Swarthmore provide the venue for their reconnection. Although there is a 2.5-year age difference between the pair, the way in which the two speak and laugh so unabashedly is ageless. I asked the two to remark on their secret to being close, what advice could they offer…? Sarah conjectures, and identifies laughter: “we laugh… there are a lot of books, movies, and stuff that we just think are really funny—laughter, and sharing in laughter, fun, play and just like creating a line of continuity with the things we like to do.”
According to Sophie, Sarah in one word: Loud, and Sophie: Great.
From the Diamonds, I learned the importance of Laughter with Siblings.
The Apostolerises (Sibling Space)
Harry ‘12and Ana ‘13 Apostoleris, unlike the other siblings, were home schooled growing up. Therefore for them, going to the same college as their sibling nevertheless proves a liberating experience; Harry adds, “We have more space now, at Swarthmore, than we ever did at home.”
Often mistaken for twins in their youth, the two are now very much separate people. Ana states that the two not only were mistaken as twins, but were raised very much as twins as well: “we grew up on equal footing—very much like twins.” Although Ana seems to dismiss their slight age difference, Harry is obdurate—making sure that no one “forgets” that he is, indeed, “the oldest!” The two were not alone growing up, however, with two younger brothers, they make up only half of the Apostoleris children. Ana, being the only girl, always wished she “had a sister.”
When it came time to choose a college, Harry wasn’t particularly looking to Swarthmore as an option. Both of their parents are alums of the school but Swarthmore seemed, to him, to be a little to far from home. Anna on the other hand, applied early decision. After the initial shock, Harry became really “excited” about his sister coming to Swat. According to him, they were “already accustomed to seeing each other all the time,” so the transition was be easy.
In high school, Ana had specifically planned not attending the same school as her brother. Now that they are in the same school, however, how do they stay close? What is their secret? Their secret is to separate it—to not “get too close.” They both agree, “if we saw each other all the time, it would not work—It is vital to give each other space!”
From the Apostolerises, I learned the importance of giving your siblings space.
The Thackurdeens (Sibling Camaraderie)
Maybe the most unique of all of the siblings I interviewed, the Thackurdeens, Ravi ‘14 and Sean ‘12, are sharing a lot more these days than just a three-year age difference. The pair has decided to relive their childhood by once again living with one another bunk-bed-style. The two see their unique decision to room together as a way of reconnecting with one another.
When Sean would return home during his first two years at Swarthmore, Ravi immediately noticed a difference in him. According to Ravi, Sean would come home “brainy—wanting to breakdown and deconstruct everything.” Ravi was enthralled by his brother’s newfound social and political awareness. When Sean initially searched for a school, his thoughts centered around: small, prestigious, liberal arts colleges. He never imagined that his brother would soon be joining him. Yet now, he could not imagine school without his brother. If anything, Sean states, “I would actually want more of my family on campus.” One thing that did worry Sean, however, was making sure that his brother still was able to enjoy and “benefit from his own Swat experience without me.” Sean had very much made a name for himself on campus, and he wanted to ensure that his brother was afforded the same opportunity.
After more than a year together on campus, the pair no longer see class year as something that should separate them in their relationship. Swarthmore has allowed Sean to get “to know my brother a lot more.” Sean and Ravi’s culture had always taught them the importance of family closeness. Sean says, “Although we’re the first generation growing up in America… Family closeness is still such a big part of our culture and family.” Although they had been taught to be close since birth, Ravi believes that one cannot operate under the assumption that “brothers always have to be there for each other.” He continues, “It’s not just the idea of being blood! Growing up, I took for granted that my brother and my family would always be there, but that’s not true, you have to work at it.” I then asked them to reflect on how they work at it—what is their secret? Their immediate answer: talking, pushing boundaries, and laughter. “Knowing what’s going on in your brother’s head—talking always brings us closer,” Ravi says. “I’m his brother, I know him best, I know his thought process.” Sean says that he enjoys “being open with my brother—its awesome! He’s a friend as well as a brother.” And like with all of the others, I asked the brothers to describe one another in one word.
Sean chose to describe Ravi as: Brolic, while Ravi chose electronic for Sean.
The Thackurdeens helped me to redefine sibling camaraderie.
Through this excursion, I learned a great deal about the ingredients necessary for a worthwhile sibling relationship: strength, understanding, laughter, space, and camaraderie. All of the stories helped me tremendously. I am now exceedingly hopeful for a future with my siblings and for working toward obtaining a healthy relationship.