Sons and Brothers and The Weaker Side in #Outlander

As I get older, I choose my friends more carefully (or at least I try to). Those closest to me have been there for quite some time. Some friends have been in my life since…well, since we were the age that my own children are now. So it is easy to see my children’s friendship through the eyes of a child as well as with the wisdom of years—not that my motherly wisdom necessarily accounts for much in their eyes, yet.

I stand back and try to let them learn their own lessons of friendship, if I can. I bite my tongue a lot. Some friendships I know will burn out fast and, sometimes, I am grateful for it. Other times I watch bonds being forged, strengthened, and fortified by time and shared experience, and I find myself hopeful that the bond will stay solid without becoming fetters.

These early experiences with friendships…these earliest relationships…can color what we expect from later relationships. And, to be honest, I want them to expect a lot from their friends and from themselves. People will make mistakes, of course, but how they address their mistakes shows a lot about their character. The ability to say “I’m sorry,” and “I was wrong,” and “of course, I forgive you,” give more insight into a person’s soul than if they never had need for forgiveness…whether to ask for it or to receive it.

In case you were wondering when I was going to bring this around to some Outlander reference…wait no more! {SPOILER ALERT}

So, as I am working through yet another re-re-re-reading of the Outlander books, I find myself calling my kids over to listen (yet again) to some of the snippets that tug at my heart. Lately, my son, especially, seems to be the getting the lion’s share of my fair attempts at Scottish-brogued recitations from the stories.

My son, youngest and brotherless, used to beg me for a little brother. So I was so glad when we moved and he found a family of boys down the street ranging in age from nearly new-born, to three, to just-his-age, and to just-one-year-older. Finally he had a band of brothers of the heart. I think it eased his own heart a bit, to feel less alone; in a house full of women, he and his father are woefully outnumbered. It reminded me of Jamie speaking Ian:

“I thought I’d have a new brother,” he’d said suddenly. “But I don’t. It’s just Jenny and me, still.” In the years since, he’d succeeded in forgetting that small pain, the loss of his hoped-for brother, the boy who might have given him back a little of his love for his older brother, Willie, dead of the smallpox. He’d cherished that pain for a little, a flimsy shield against the enormity of knowing his mother gone forever.

Ian had sat thinking for a bit, then reached into his sporran and got out the wee knife his father had given him on his last birthday.

“I’ll be your brother,” he’d said, matter-of-fact, and cut across his thumb, hissing a little through his teeth.

He’d handed the knife to Jamie, who’d cut himself, surprised that it hurt so much, and then they’d pressed their thumbs together and sworn to be brothers always. And had been.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 81, “Purgatory II.”)

When I read that bit to my son, he blinked away some alleged allergen that suddenly seemed to make his eyes a bit watery. I must have suffered a similar affliction, because I suddenly needed a tissue, myself.

As my son gets older, I realize his need for a “brother”–for someone to stand with him, to “have his back” when things get tough. Apparently growing up male is a hazardous business. Hell, growing up at all is rough enough. So I shared this bit between Jenny and Claire with him:

“I remember, when they were young, auld John told Ian it was his job to stand to Jamie’s right, for he must guard his chief’s weaker side in a fight. And he did— they took it verra seriously, the two of them. And I suppose auld John was right, at that,” she added, snipping off the excess thread. “After a time, nobody would fight them, not even the MacNab lads. Jamie and Ian were both fair-sized, and bonny fighters, and when they stood shoulder to shoulder, there was no one could take the pair o’ them down, even if they were outnumbered.”

She laughed suddenly, and smoothed back a lock of hair behind her ear.

“Watch them sometime, when they’re walking the fields together. I dinna suppose they even realize they do it still, but they do. Jamie always moves to the left, so Ian can take up his place on the right, guardin’ the weak side.”

(Diana Gabaldon, From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, chapter 33, “Thy Brother’s Keeper.”)

*grabs another Kleenex* Stupid allergies.

Perhaps just as important as having a brave brother to stand at your side, is to know that the loyalty is unending…to know that it is a loyalty that has need of asking.  It. Just. Is. Friendship like that transcends time. It even transcends death itself:

(Fair warning: grab your Kleenex now, and perhaps a wee dram to fortify yourself.)

After Ian’s death, Jamie and Jenny share a quiet moment of wonder (…and said moment may have resulted in some not-so-quiet ugly-crying at our house):

“Where d’ye think he is now?” Jenny said suddenly. “Ian, I mean.”

He glanced at the house, then at the new grave waiting, but of course that wasn’t Ian anymore. He was panicked for a moment, his earlier emptiness returning–but then it came to him, and, without surprise, he knew what it was Ian had said to him.

“On your right, man.” On his right. Guarding his weak side.

“He’s just here,” he said to Jenny, nodding to the spot between them. “Where he belongs.”

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 84, “The Right of It.”)

The thing about a true friend, though, is that they never really leave you. It can take a while to understand that. Certainly my ten year old self could never imagine having a friendship continue beyond the grave; but my 43 year old self finds great comfort in that.

I read my son the passage where Young Ian comes across Jamie preparing for battle:

“And what are ye doin’ out here in your sark, then?”

“Washing,” Jamie said, but in a tone indicating that that wasn’t all of it. “And…talkin’ to my ain dead.”

“Mmphm. Anyone in particular?”

“My uncle Dougal, and Murtagh, him who was my godfather. They’re the two I’d most want with me, in battle.” Jamie made a small restless movement. “If I can, I make a wee moment to be alone, before a fight. To wash, ken, and pray a bit, and then…just ask if they’ll bide with me as I go.”

Ian thought this interesting; he hadn’t known either man himself; they’d both died at Culloden, but he’d heard stories.

“Bonnie fighters,” he said. “Did ye ask my Da, too? To go with ye, I mean. Perhaps that’s why he’s about.”

Jamie turned his head sharply toward Ian, surprised. Then relaxed, shaking his head.
“I never had to ask Ian Mòr,” he said softly. “He was always…just with me.” He gestured briefly to the darkness on his right.

(Diana Gabaldon. From WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD.)

So, yes, THIS is the friendship I want for my children. THIS is the kind of bond I hope they forge with their friends…their family…their future spouse. I wish for them the kind of love that is constant, and unflinching, and loyal, and without fail. Because the world is hard enough…and knowing that someone is guarding your weak side can make all the difference.

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9 thoughts on “Sons and Brothers and The Weaker Side in #Outlander

  1. Maybe that’s one of the reasons that this series has become so important to me over the past year+. There are so many moments throughout the books that touch on different parts of Jamie and Claire’s lives, both with each other and their friends/family. It makes me a little sad to know that it will be over someday, but to be able to go back to these stories and relive those special events helps me understand, at least a little bit, of what it means to grow up with a real family. Diana’s Outlander series will always hold a special place in my heart, truly.

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  2. Echo….Jamie….Ian Mor….siblings…Terri, I knew you were going to make me get the tissues out! Um, allergies as you said? I’m blessed with such a dear friend as well as precious siblings, and the passage of time makes me appreciate them all so much more.

    Girl, now you’ve got me all sappy! ((hugs…))

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    • Erm, yes, allergies. There was a line in one of the later books where Jamie is contemplating Claire’s upbringing and has a thought about how her lack of family undoubtedly contributed to her fierce devotion to him. Broke. My. Heart. I think that we find those we need. It’s a reassuring thought, at least, that those we need find us.

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      • Would that be from the last chapter of Written In My Own Heart’s Blood…

        “Aye, well,” he said, and held me close. After a bit, we walked hand in hand to the biggest pile of barked timber and sat down. I could feel him thinking but was content to wait until he had formed what he wanted to say. It didn’t take him long. He turned to me and took my hands, formal as a man about to say his wedding vows.

        “Ye lost your parents young, mo nighean donne, and wandered about the world, rootless. Ye loved Frank” – his mouth compressed for an instant, but I thought he was unconscious of it – “and of course ye love Brianna and Roger Mac and the weans… but, Sassenach – I am the true home of your heart, and I know that.”

        He lifted my palms to his mouth and kissed my upturned palms, one and then the other, his breath warm and his beard stubble soft on my fingers.

        “I have loved others, and I do love many, Sassenach – but you alone hold all my heart whole in your hands.” he said softly, “And you know that.”

        Made my, ahem, allergies kick up the first 20 times I read it and now still makes my heart squeeze every time. I think Ian Mor was a big chunk of that “I have loved others, and I do love many…”

        Timely post, ma’am. Have been thinking much lately about kinds and quality of friendships as I watch my young adult daughter navigate the choppy waters of burgeoning adult relationships.

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        • It took much digging, but I found it in MOBY:

          Claire had told him her thought—that the man might be some relation of hers, perhaps a direct ancestor. She had tried to be casual about it, dismiss the idea even as she spoke it, but he’d seen the eager light in her eyes and been touched. The fact that she had no family or close kin in her own time had always struck him as a dreadful thing, even while he realized that it had much to do with her devotion to him.

          This bit broke my heart–as much for Claire’s longing for family as for Jamie recognizing her longing. 💔

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  3. Being one of the youngest of my generation I didn’t get to know a lot of my grands. I only really had my dad’s mother for any length of time and she passed when I was just 12. But the one who had my back just left me. My aunt Christine was in her nineties yet she was sharp as a tack. If I ever grow up I want to be just like her. I have a couple of friends that I could call for almost anything but none of them would back me up like my aunt would. We were friends. Even with a forty something year age difference we just saw the world the same way. Lord I miss her. I still have to stop myself from calling her. I’ve stopped trying to call my mom, but not Christine.
    She had lost her sight but would have loved Outlander on books for the blind. I’m just sorry I didn’t get to share them with her. She could still give great driving directions for her home town and knew where almost everything was in the house. It was amazing.
    She taught me to pray in triangles. Right thing, right time, right reason while drawing a little triangle as an aid to memory when praying for others. She didn’t mind my very unorthodox belief system because the way she taught me would work regardless of deity.
    We were women who worked and paid others to clean for us because cleaning ladies need to make a living too.

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  4. Damn it! I’m crying again. This is just so beautifully written and true. I have been dying to have these kinds of conversations about things from Outlander and no one to talk through with. And with four kids aged 9-newborn I just don’t have the bandwidth to write it out myself… But I’m telling you: from my heart to your written words. Thank you for writing so many things that I have been feeling as I process my first (and now starting my second) reading of the series.

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    • I do love talking about the books. My family jokes that I can relate anything to Outlander. There is definitely some truth in their words.

      I can’t imagine how busy you must be. I have three kids, but they are getting older now, so I am finally feeling like I am able to reclaim a bit of myself.

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