DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: A visit with a long-lost brother

CONSIDER THE HUG. Or as I’m inspired to do, reminisce about one that came as a complete surprise.

In late 2018, I found my long-lost brother online through an Ancestry.com DNA test. Michael, who lives in Washington, D.C., and I got acquainted via email during the course of a year. I beheld his picture, marveling at our similar features; as an adoptee, I’d never met family who looked like me.

Then came the day when I flew east for a visit. The trip was to include participation in the January 2020 Women’s March — exciting, but not as big a deal as meeting one’s sibling for the first time.

My husband Phil and I flew to the nation’s capital, me with my suitcase full of nerves.

You see, I’d gathered from his emails that Michael’s an accomplished guy, an excellent writer, but I didn’t know much else. So I looked my younger brother up on the Internet.

Not only does he hold a Ph.D. from Harvard, but he speaks five languages. An economist, his area of expertise is the migration of people due to war, poverty and environmental strife. As a senior member of a nonprofit research institute, he travels the world. I found these facts along with one of his presentations on migration policy.

You could say I was impressed. Freaked out would be more accurate.

Learning about this brother and his achievements shrank me straight back to girlhood, when I was Plain Jane from the suburbs, spent weekends reading paperbacks in my room, too shy to say boo to anyone.

Now I’m all grown up, sure. But I didn’t feel ready for what was about to happen.

Would we have anything in common to talk about? What would Michael and his equally formidable wife think of me?

It was to happen on a Sunday afternoon. Michael would pick us up at our hotel and we’d go over to his house for a visit. So by Saturday night, I had worked myself into full tizzy. I texted two wise women friends, asking for help.

Both advised me back down from the ledge with the obvious: Ask Michael and his family about their lives. Focus on them. And take slow, deep breaths as you go. That helps relax the room.

Oh. Yeah. So rattled was I, I’d forgotten my interviewing skills. And my yoga training.

When Michael pulled up, I recognized him in an instant. “There he is,” I said, and we hugged, awkward as tin people.

Then it was chitchat all the way to his home, where my beautiful sister-in-law introduced me to my nieces.

Both girls look like me — especially 4-year-old Tee. We talked about yoga — she’s learned it in preschool — but she was too shy to act on her mom’s invitation to show me her downward-facing dog.

The conversation moved on to the museums we’d visited in Washington, D.C., and the homemade raisin bread Phil had brought. Things were going well.

Michael showed me their gorgeous wedding photo, so I asked my sister-in-law: How did you know he was the one for you?

No hesitation. “I knew he was really smart,” she said. “But he is also really kind. Often, men who are that smart can be arrogant.”

Michael just looked at his wife, his eyes shining with love.

We four talked for another hour or so, and then time to go; it was nearing the girls’ bedtime. We all walked to the front door, bracing ourselves for the cold.

“Thank you for finding us,” Michael said.

Not knowing how to answer, I stood there. Then I felt a light touch by my side.

It was Tee. She laid her cheek on my leg and patted my knee. Wrapping her arms around me as best she could, she gave me pure reassurance: a child-size bear hug.


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be May 20. Reach her at [email protected]