This is the story of two brothers. Not two biblical brothers, with opposing personalities and years of raging jealousy and trickery. Two ordinary brothers, six years apart in age, and miles apart in personality. As ordinary brothers are wont to do, sometimes they get along well, but most of the time, they get under each other’s skin.
The two brothers are well liked by their peers, but on weekends, they tend to gravitate to not making any plans, and prefer to hang around the house, annoy each other and nag their mother or father to play games with them. The mother was not too happy with this arrangement, because she really liked some quiet time on Shabbat, and enjoyed napping, reading or spending time with her husband, whom she didn’t get to see that often during the busy workweek. So one day, she decided to take them to the park, because she knew that the boys might find some friends there, and would be forced to socialize and move around a little, thereby alleviating the nagging and annoying they were heavily engaged in.
When they arrived at the park, to the mother’s great surprise, the two brothers began playing together. This is a rare occurrence in their house, as sometimes the vast age difference inhibits this. The older boy, at 10, ran around the park with his younger brother and went down the slides, and the mother noticed how big he looked, fitting himself between the narrow braces on the side of the slide, and how his legs stretched most of the way down, almost reaching the bottom, while he sat waiting to dismount. How much he had grown, without her noticing.
Then, the older boy came to the bench where the mother was sitting, grabbed a soccer ball that he had brought, and the two brothers ran off to the grass to kick the ball to each other. The mother sat and enjoyed the bliss of the peaceful afternoon, alone on her park bench, where there was no rough-housing or whining or complaining.
“Mommy! My friends are here. Is it okay if I play with them?” The silence was short, pierced by the older boy’s question. The mother was elated. She had hoped he would find some friends to play with and her wishes were granted. He tucked the soccer ball under her bench, and ran off to play football with a large group of boys from his class. Her son looked radiant, happy to be included and not sitting alone again at home, wondering out loud what to do. She allowed herself a moment of gratitude that the boys had enthusiastically included her son, and that he had seamlessly transitioned into his role in their football game.
But the moment came to an abrupt stop when the younger son dragged himself over to the peaceful park bench, hysterically crying. “I have the worst brother!” he cried. “How could he leave me?” The pain in his big brown eyes seemed intense, pooling with tears that spilled down his lashes and onto his cheeks.
“I see why you’d feel that way,” the mother said, sympathizing, and trying to see it from his point of view. “You were having so much fun with him.” She felt torn. On the one hand, her older son was finally engaged and included in an afternoon sport game. But on the other hand, her younger son had been thrilled to have his brother’s attention all to himself, and then it was ripped away. She didn’t know what to do.
“How could Hashem do this to me? How?” he said, dramatizing his emotions. “I’ll never daven to Him again.” The mother was a little taken aback by the intensity of his display of feelings, and tried to use it as an opportunity to teach her son that sometimes in our painful times, we need to cling to God and show Him our loyalty, but that didn’t seem to go over too well.
Things escalated for a while and the mother offered to take her young son home, if he couldn’t find anything else to do at the park. She silently prayed that his friends would show up, but God didn’t seem to want to make that happen, either. And then, after around 20 minutes of possibly being the entertainment for several park-goers, the older brother came sauntering across the grass, heading to where the mother and son were sitting, not so peacefully.
“Come,” the older brother said, gesturing for his younger brother to join him. “Come play with me.”
The mother looked up at him, questioningly. “Where did your friends go?” She looked around and most of them were still there. A few had branched off to socialize while the others played a rowdy game of football.
“They’re here. But I see my brother’s upset and I want him to play with me.”
The younger brother was mystified. He paused mid-cry, not believing the turn of his luck. His tears stopped coming. “Nah, it’s okay. Go to your friends.” He hung back on the bench, feeling guilty for taking his older brother away from the game. “I feel bad.”
“Let’s go,” the older brother said, and put his hand on his brother’s shoulder.
“Oh wow. Hashem is the best! I’ll never stop davening again,” the younger brother said, as he picked up the soccer ball. They walked in unison to the field, their shoes pressing in the muddy grass, step by step, the older brother coaxing and inviting the younger brother with his gentle, sweeping touch. And the younger brother, optimistic and hopeful, and filled with admiration and adoration, walked next to him.
The mother swallowed hard, hoping her own tears wouldn’t come, now that her son’s had stopped. For this was all she could have hoped for as a mother, to live to see that one moment of kindness between her children, to understand that buried underneath their punches, shouting, and brawls, lies a seed of love that was planted and was starting to sprout. She hoped that it would always be there, strong and flexible, firm, but forgiving.
For sometimes people find themselves at a fork in the road, and are faced with choices. To exclude, or to include. To self-satisfy, or to satiate. To take, or to give. The older son took the selfless path, and with that decision, forever changed the trajectory of the relationship with his younger brother. Maybe he didn’t have as much fun with his friends that afternoon, but he kindled a force of trust and admiration in his doting sibling.
As the mother looked up, she saw that her older son had invited all of his friends to come play soccer with his younger brother, had found a way to bridge the gap between his social life and his family, had made a choice to find the one who was left out on the side, and to say, “My happiness is not complete, if you, my brother, are sad.”
The brothers and some friends laughed and played, and as the afternoon grew cold, the mother looked up and saw that all who were left on the playing field were her two boys, glowing with exhilaration. Two brothers, six years apart, and maybe a little closer together.
Sarah Abenaim is an author, freelance writer, and solution-focused life coach, dedicated to helping clients overcome personal or relationship challenges in meaningful and practical ways. For more information or to schedule a session, please visit her website, www.SarahAbenaim.com or email her directly at [email protected]