Someday, if it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to get it through my brother’s cannonball skull that there’s a three-hour gap between our time zones.

   So if he calls me at 7 a.m. his time, all chirpy-voiced and raring to talk, it’s only 4 a.m. in my cold, dark world and there’s a slight chance I’ll be sleeping.

   He claims he knows about the time difference, but somehow he just forgets. Yeah, right. As if he ever forgets anything.

   My birthday, for example. He never forgets that. Why would he? It’s so much fun to call at 4 a.m. and wake me up.

   Joe is blind, but he’s no fool. He’s been waking me up at the crack of dawn most of my life.

   When he was little, 5 or 6 _ before he got old enough to board at the state school for the blind _ he’d wake me up most every morning and make me describe for him the sunrise.

   He couldn’t see it, but he could feel it warming his face through the window. When it felt just right, he’d find his way to my room waving his little pink hand like a starfish.

   “Sister,” he’d say, “wake up.”

   “Can’t,” I’d say. “I’m dead.”

   That made him laugh, but it never deterred him. No matter how dead I played, no matter how mad I got, I had to get up and tell him about the sunrise.

   And if my words failed to do justice to the image that swirled in his mind, he’d said, “Nope, that’s not it, try again.”

   I’ve not checked, but if you look in the dictionary under “stubborn little cuss,” you might see my brother grinning.

   He loves to get calls on his birthday. In fact, he usually calls me a week in advance _ at 4 a.m. _ to remind me to call him. He doesn’t get as many calls as he once did. Most of the people he counted on _ our mother, our stepfather, our grandparents and even his wife, the love of his life _ are gone.

   Our sister, Saint Bobbie, who lives nearby, always takes him out to supper to celebrate. The best I can do from three time zones away is send a card and a little gift and make dang sure I don’t forget to call.

   Today, on his birthday, I almost called at midnight _ 3 a.m. his time. It seemed only fair. But I waited until 9, after I had a hot shower. (If I have to sing “Happy Birthday,” I find it helps to shower first.)

   When he didn’t answer, I left a message: “Call me or else.”

   Hours later when he called back, he made me sing “Happy Birthday” again, even though I’d sung it on the message.

   “Were you out partying?”

   He hooted. “Yes, I was out partying at my dentist’s office!”

   He was serious. He went in to get his teeth cleaned and the staff gave him a party complete with presents, a new toothbrush and a box of chocolate bars.

   “They were so good I ate six bars on my way home!”

   “I bet they throw parties for all their patients,” I teased.

   “No,” he said, “they really like me. My dentist never charges me a dime. He says the Lord’s been good to him and he just wants to give a little back.”

   For a moment, I closed my eyes and tried to picture the image my blind brother saw so clearly: That of a small band of angels who cleaned his teeth and warmed his heart.

   It happens every day in small towns and big cities. People go out of their way to shine light, to shed grace, to be kind. It happens so often it shouldn’t surprise us. But when it happens to someone we love, it’s a gift to us, as well.

   Someday, if it’s the last thing I do, I’ll visit the office to thank them in person. Today I’ll leave a message. The office is closed. It’s only 2 p.m. my time but, as my brother just explained to me, there’s a three-hour gap between our time zones.

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