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31 Days Not According to PlanAlmost two years ago, my brother started looking into jobs and fellowships as the next step in his medical career. When he shared an extensive list of places he was considering, I had a novel idea: what if we tried to live near each other?

I put the idea out there and my brother said, “Oh yeah, if Mom or Dad have an episode at some point, you’re going to have to be around to help take care of them.”

Not exactly what I’d been trying to communicate. I guess it makes sense that medical emergencies would be foremost on a doctor’s mind though.


Planning to live near my brother didn’t work out. But living near him when life didn’t go according to plan did.

My brother and his wife moved to Baltimore for a one year fellowship while Ben and I were still planning to live in Cambodia for a year. I hadn’t lived in the same state as my brother since high school, and now he was moving to the city I’d called home just three years earlier. I couldn’t believe it.

The most I could share in the experience with him was offering tips on where to go and what to do in Baltimore. He likes to forge his own path though, so before long, I went back to focusing on Skype calls with people in Cambodia.

Little did I know, three months later, I would be packing boxes to join him in Charm City.


Upon arriving in Maryland, my brother and sister-in-law welcomed Ben and me with lunch – the first of many meals together in their Harbor East neighborhood.

Sunday night suppers quickly became a tradition. Before and after eating, we bonded over UNO and Play Station’s DuckTales, bringing back long-forgotten childhood memories for my brother and me while forging new ones with our spouses.

Playing UNO brought back childhood memories while forging new ones.

Differences among the four of us became less prominent over time. At the start of our season together, I left the oven door open to let out residual heat. My sister-in-law looked at me like I was crazy and said she could turn up the heat if I was cold.

By the end of our time together, she and my brother understood our frugal, waste-averse nature enough to hand make a birthday card for Ben – and seal it in a used business envelope with black electrical tape.

When we celebrated my winter birthday, my brother wore a suit, my sister-in-law wore a sequined top with dress pants, and Ben and I wore jeans with nice sweaters. By spring, I was learning how to twist my hair up fancy and hoping for a reason to get dressed up.


Miraculously, discussing controversial topics like Obamacare and biblical teachings also drew us closer together. My sister-in-law and I think more similarly than my brother and I ever did, so she inherently provided common ground and, at times, mediated communications. Meanwhile, Ben’s gift for building relationships had us all laughing at moments when I would have otherwise simply sat in awkwardness.

Good wine and chocolate helped too. For weeks, we ended each evening by carefully cutting several squares of chocolate my brother and sister-in-law had brought back from New York City into four pieces – one for each of us to taste and guess the flavor.

We cut Jacques Torres chocolates into pieces for all of us to share.

As kids, my brother and I would fill a paper bag with hand-selected jelly beans at the local candy store. Then we’d have each other guess the flavors one by one while listening to a brass band play summer favorites on the town lawn.

Over the years, our tastes have matured from buttered popcorn, cotton candy, and toasted marshmallow flavored jelly beans to ancho chili, champagne, and Earl Grey flavored chocolates. (To be honest, I’ve always been partial to chocolates, but I suffered jelly beans for the sake of entertainment.)


I cherish those seven months of Sunday nights with family. We still have an abundance to learn about each other and we’re currently struggling to coordinate Christmas travels, but we now have a groundwork for relating to each other as adults. We better understand similarities, differences, quirks, frustrations, and joys.

Thanks to life not going according to plan, I now have more than jelly beans to go on with my brother.

I suspect life is indeed going according to Someone’s plan.

Jelly Beans!

Photo courtesy of Milind Alvares.