A Decade of Gratitude

My brother, John, and I a decade ago. 

Today I came across this picture of my brother and I taken just before Thanksgiving 2007.

This photo seems pretty basic - a posed picture for a family Christmas card. But looking at it now - with the knowledge of what transpired over the last 10 years - fills me with happiness, sadness and immense gratitude.

Pictures like this have a way of glossing over the real story. The real story was that was a strange Thanksgiving.

My brother, a Marine Lieutenant at the time, had just returned from his first tour in Iraq. I had just started my career as a traveling filmmaker and photojournalist.

We were both going through a lot of change in our lives and had yet to learn how to process it.

It's a Thanksgiving I barely remember. It was the first thanksgiving we spent without the extended Heald family, and the only one where we didn’t eat turkey (we had steak instead). I wouldn't remember it at all, I don't think, without this picture.

When I look at the image today, I see two kids completely unaware and unready for what was to come. At lot has changed since the shutter clicked on this image. 

Since this picture was taken, my brother spent another 8 months in Iraq. He lost a Marine, not in the war, but to suicide later. He has had two civilian jobs, including the one he currently has in commercial real estate. He married my sister-in-law in 2011, and together they have a vivacious almost-3-year-old.

I, on the other hand, have worked in 40 countries and all but three American states (I'm coming for you Rhode Island, Utah and New Mexico). I have been to two Olympic Games and five Super Bowls. I have met people from every walk of life in every corner of the globe. I became an aunt and a Godmother.

Collectively we have lost three grandparents (one on Thanksgiving Day 2010) and a great grandmother. We have watched cousins get married and start careers. We have mourned deaths and celebrated births. We've both made decisions - good and bad - that have led us to where we are now.

My brother is living and working in Tampa. He has found his own community, built his own career and created his own family.

I am renovating an old house in Jacksonville, where my north Florida roots run deep. In all my travels, home has always remained constant. The shores of the Atlantic - the beaches of my childhood - have kept me sane in a chaotic world.

Together and apart we have begun our own stories.

Today my brother and I will meet for a family Thanksgiving. We will drink Bloody Mary’s (a family tradition), eat turkey, take new family photos, and give thanks for all that has passed and all there is to come.

Happy Thanksgiving!