When the ones we love disappoint us in ways that can never be undone.



I spoke with my brother Jeremy recently, and I am proud of him for many things, but not for what I’m about to tell you. I will skip through the less interesting points of conversation. There is little to skip through, because most of what we talk about is very interesting. So I am skipping almost nothing. In fact, this may be almost exactly how it went:


I picked up the phone.

Hey Josef, he said.

I ignored his greeting and demanded to know what he was drinking, because I am generally interested in knowing what people are eating or drinking when I’m talking with them, and I could tell immediately that he was drinking some form of coffee.

Everybody’s good at one thing in life. That’s my one thing. I’m very good at telling what people are eating or drinking over the phone.

What kind of coffee are you drinking?
I asked, skipping any formalities such “Hi, how are you?”

You might be wondering if I’m so good at telling what people are drinking, how I couldn’t tell what kind of coffee, and to that I would say, “I am still a work in progress and have a long ways to go.”

I suspected it was more than simple coffee; it was more than suspicion, it was a highly educated guess based on my years of observation and experience. So it was a very good guess, and of course I was right.

I’m drinking Black Rock,
he said.
I had a free drink.

I said, and then said something like:
So did you get one of those giant sugary caramel whip cream topped deals, or did you go iced or blended with a huge plastic goblet of cold sugary beverage to flood your system?

I said something like that.

And he said:

I got an Americano.

You got an Americano?
I said, realising that we had a poor connection, and laughing at the idea that I had heard him say he used his free drink to get an Americano.

I got an Americano.
he said, and I realised the connection was fine, and I had heard him accurately.

My heart plummeted.

You got an Americano?
I said quietly, not wanting to believe it.

he said.
Sounded good, so yeah. Got an Americano.

You used…
I repeated sadly, wanting to run away from his failure,
your free drink on an Americano?

he said, his voice getting quieter as he realised the mistake he had made; one he would never be able to take back.

I love Americanos.
I said.
I usually get Americanos sixty percent of the time. But you used your free drink to get something normal. Something everyday. Something average.

he said.
I guess I could have gotten something different. I just thought an Americano sounded good this morning.

I love you,
I said.
And I probably always will. But this is really hard for me to handle right now.

he said.
It just sounded good.

A lot of things sound good in the moment.
I said, pulling up all the Morgan Freeman-Mr. Miyagi gravitas I could that would be appropriate for the life wisdom I was about to impart to this person; this brother who had let me down…

…but more importantly, let himself down.

I continued:
So many things sound good in the moment. But when you think back on the factors that led to a poor decision, are you really learning something that will help you to never, ever repeat that mistake again?

What you did hurts everyone,
I said.
It devalues and delegitimizes the idea of a free drink. When you treat a free drink that you have worked hard for as, as…

…as something trivial, as something that isn’t to be treasured, as something that is a fool’s gold treasure at the end of a long journey, then you are taking something away from America.

he said.

I said.
When you work hard for something, like earning stars or punches for a free drink, and you achieve that goal, and then you treat your achievement as something no more special than the everyday, you are stealing the foundations of the American dream. You are ripping away the idea of a free market system in which you work hard for something in pursuit of a goal, and when you achieve that goal, you are rewarded.

And you have taken that reward, and done nothing with it.

In fact,
I continued, my voice rising.
You have done worse than nothing.

Is it that big of a deal?
he asked, his voice more confident than it had any right to be.

I love you.
I said.
But I just can’t talk to you right now.




A few of you have written in suggesting that my response may have been unduly harsh. Thank you, and I agree, except for the “unduly” and the “harsh” part. What I did was necessary and for his own good.

For our own good.

Collectively, we hold each other responsible.

We cannot look the other way. History has too many examples of that.

Most of you have agreed that my response, though tough, was also fair and necessary. And loving. And perfect. Thank you. I agree.

Some of you have suggested I mend things with him and reach out, perhaps invite him to coffee to talk things over. To that, I say “show me your punch card first.”


How accurate is this interchange?

Esprit de l’escalier.