The original story that goes with this famous quote goes back to biblical times. In the Book of Genesis, Cain and Abel were the first two sons of Adam and Eve. Cain, the firstborn, was a farmer, and his brother Abel a shepherd. The brothers were good b’ys by those days’ standards when making sacrifices to God were favoured.
Each lad made gifts of his own produce, but God seemed to prefer Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s. It’s a long, evolved yarn, but Cain eventually killed his brother Abel and was questioned by God himself on the matter. When the Lord asked Cain’s brother what became of the missing sibling Abel replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?’’
Not without guilt
As the anniversary of my own brother’s suicide approached, this Bible verse was on my mind. While I never personally had anything to do with my brother taking his life two years ago, I’m certainly not without guilt.
As children, I ran away with my friends when my brother, so much younger and so apt to mess things up as boys often will, tried to play along. I left him thigh deep in a frozen pond when we were kids once, maybe for hours, because I wasn’t done skating. I later found out his leg was broke.
Thankfully guilt isn’t gifted to the young, and I shrugged it off. So did he. A few Barney Beagle and the Cat stories later, he seemed to forgive me and we were back to getting along – or not – depending on the day.
But I think about that day now. I wonder, what was on his mind? He must have been cold. Scared even, though he didn’t say a word. I remember warning him; you tell, I’ll never take you again. And that seemed to matter more than getting home and off to the Janeway to be patched up.
Of course, my brother wasn’t alone when it came to the kill ya or cure ya love of an older sibling. I took my baby sister on a stolen – from our garage – quad ride once and flipped it on a cliff I should have never attempted to climb. I, older and more agile and wise enough to jump off, did so.
She stayed on and the heavy bike landed on top of her little body. I remember hauling her out from underneath and the relief I felt when I saw she was still breathing. I thought I had killed her. Man, would I have been grounded had she died! For life!!
All fun and games
She was covered, head to toe, in scrapes, bruises and burns. But she was breathing. And you want to know what I told her? Tell, and I’ll never take you on a run we’re not supposed to be on again.
She looked at me my with big brown eyes and nodded. She got it. For weeks, in the heat of the summer’s sun, she wore long sleeves and long pants. No one found out until we spilled the beans as adults.
It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye, I suppose, and no one died in either case. My younger siblings survived their big sister ordeals and we lived to enjoy many more ‘don’t tell mom’ adventures.
The gift of hindsight
My brother’s gone now, and I can’t ask him about that day on the ice anymore. And I don’t know really if I would have changed anything even with the gift of hindsight, anyway. My brother covered for me that day, and he never ever ratted me out for making him stay put.
And trust me, as he grew, I returned the favour more than once. Mom, all the times you wondered where all the gas went? Well, it’s a long, long story. And the kilometres on the truck? A boy can do a nice bit of going when the heart’s involved. Trust me.
While I would never say I was my brother’s keeper, I can say with pride that I was the keeper of his secrets. And he certainly was the keeper of mine.
Love and miss ya, brother. Love from one of your secret keepers.
Pam Pardy Ghent, The Herald’s Managing Editor, can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org