Brother’s Keeper… October 24, 2012

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Live from October 1st filming

Mary and Russell had five children.

I was the fourth intrusion. I do not characterize myself in that way to be mean-spirited. No human being is good at parenting. Even Adam and Eve were not “Abel” and ended up raising “Cain.”

Here’s the problem: By the time we figure out babies, they become toddlers. We graduate that phase, and suddenly they’re children. Just when we grasp the concept of childhood, they escape into the great tunnel of adolescence. Some brave souls actually try to follow them into that cave–and are never heard of again. The intelligent ones stand on the outside of the deep, dark hole, pray, cross their fingers and wait for their dear offspring to emerge about eight or nine years later.

Feel free to purchase books on the subject of raising children–although some piously insist that the term should be “rearing.” Your little darlings will be more than happy to dash all theories and bring to rubble great plans for household advancement.

So it was no different with Mary and Russell. Their particular skills were stuck somewhere between the McGuffie Reader and Dr. Benjamin Spock, causing them in their confusion to be too mean when compassion was required and too gentle when my four brothers and myself were desperate for discipline.

The only regrettable conclusion of this situation is that the five brothers grew up not particularly fond of each other. We were too competitive. We were too self-involved. We were too much of everything that is associated with the word “too.”

My oldest brother passed away before he and I were able to make peace with each other. Sad.

The third son and I made a truce which lasted until the day he died.

My younger sibling expresses affection in my direction, which is never followed up with any connection.

But Brother Number Two has become my project over the past twenty years. He was an intelligent, promising student many years ago, who had a vision for becoming a high school English teacher extraordinaire. He pulled it off for many years, but in the mid-1980’s he had a nervous breakdown and has lived on disability ever since.

I have great devotion for him. You notice I am careful not to call it “love.” To me, “love” is reserved for those excellent earthly moments when true connection is made between souls and an unearthly understanding of the universe unfolds.

No, I am devoted to him. For twenty years I have written him. For twenty years, I have visited every chance I can–whenever I get within a hundred miles. And every week I also receive a letter from him, ranging in tone from the kindness of mundane to the anger and virulence of vicious.

I endure.

So imagine my mixed emotions this week when I arrived in Central Ohio knowing that I needed to see him, but realizing that there was a reluctance in my heart to be confronted–especially at this time in my journey–with such a malevolent presence. I always have to remind myself that he strikes out at the world around him because he feels struck. But it’s not very comforting in the moment.

So I made a plan to pick him up at 9:15 yesterday morning, confirmed it with him by phone, and drove into his driveway to discover that his entire front yard had been transformed into a giant garage sale, strewn with trash and old junk. I thought to myself that at least we had a good topic for opening conversation. As previously agreed, I tapped my horn to let him know of my arrival.

There was no response.

My present physical condition does not permit me to leap from the van and go to the door to pound upon it with urgency. So I waited five minutes and tapped my horn again. Nothing.

My mind flashed back to the last three times I tried to connect with this dear brother, and had been stood up by him with a nasty letter from him following, explaining that it was my fault that he didn’t appear because he knew deep in his heart that I don’t really care anything about him.

So I started to wonder how long I planned to stay in his driveway, tapping my horn, before leaving with the realization that once again I was to be viewed as the ugly girl at the junior prom.

Yet I persisted. After five horn beeps and twenty-five minutes, he appeared sleepily at the door and told me he would be right out. Ten minutes later, I was rewarded for my perseverance by the appearance of my brother at the side of my van, and we were off.

The next two hours that I spent with him are a study in human behavior and an exploration into the definitions of feeling helpless. For you see, the reason his front yard has been turned into a flea market is that he has allowed two vagabond young men to come in and live in his home, and they have completely taken over his abode, and are beginning to fight with him to such an extent that the police have actually had to be called to the scene.

I resisted running away in horror.

He explained to me that these same individuals have chased away his beloved cats, which are really his only family, leaving him without feline protection. One of these young intruders has also brought a homeless man into the house to stay, further complicating the chemistry brewing in the cauldron.

Then my brother explained to me that he is trying to evict one of the squatters, while said squatter is also taking him to court for reimbursement on construction supplies that the young fellow purchased to build in a living quarters–for himself–on the back porch. (Now, I realize that all of this is very confusing when written into a story form, but let me comfort you by telling you that it was no easier to understand in the original telling.)

My dear brother had no trouble whatsoever filling in 129 minutes of conversation on his own, only once asking about my doings, in passing. He has a life that is full … without having a full life.

You see, it’s what happens to all of us when we don’t decide the purpose for our breathing and moving; circumstance and crazy travelers can come in and fill in our empty space with their own trauma and terror.

This is why I pity grown people who make their children their lives. Your seed will be more than willing to destroy your garden of hopes. I am always careful to warn those who have retired to start a second career, finding a reason to get up in the morning. Otherwise, all of the insanity of the world will crash in on you, exhausting you with its nuttiness without ever granting you fruit.

My brother was exhausted but had nothing to show for it but sadness, exasperation, apprehension and defeat. They had broken his television set, taken his car and left him desolate. And because it appears that he has given these things over to them, it is impossible to prosecute the perpetrators.

I was so depleted. I remembered the lament of an exasperated brother from thousands of years ago: Am I my brother’s keeper?

It’s so easy to walk away from insanity and allow it to be turned over to the general asylum. You can disassociate yourself from it so easily, returning to your own peaceful ways.

But he is my brother. He would be my brother if we had not shared a common womb, because we share a common God.

I did my best to encourage. I did my best to bless. I did my best to promise him that I would return again very soon to renew our conversation. I did my best to give him some money so he could spend it on himself instead of squandering it on his emotional assailants.

I did my best not to cry.

Mary and Russell did their best, too. But like many of those born after the Garden, they grew some weeds. It is now the job of those stray children to find one another and make some sense of it all.

I am my brother’s keeper. It’s just that sometimes the most difficult part of caretaking … is cleaning up.

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an incredibly
    long comment but after I clicked submit my comment
    didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over
    again. Regardless, just wanted to say excellent blog!

    Like

  2. […] Brother’s Keeper… October 24, 2012 (jonathots.wordpress.com) […]

    Like


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