I’ve been pondering this notion of being our brother’s keeper for quite a while now. Ever since I pledged a fraternity at George Mason University, where we kept an oath once to be each other’s keeper, this concept of keeping a brother or a sister has been something which has somehow grated at me.
The history of being a brother’s keeper is biblical, when Cain killed Abel and God asked Cain where Abel was at, Cain responded “am I my brother’s keeper?”
The lesson we have gleaned thus is that we are supposed to keep one another. But what if the statement that Cain was making was more rhetorical than it was actually a question. What if the reason Cain bludgeoned Abel with a rock and nullified his existence was precisely because he felt like he was his keeper and then felt the wrath of envy when the brother he was supposed to “keep” rose above him in his blessings? What if Abel actually did not even get more blessings, what if Cain’s blessings were equal to Abel’s yet because Cain felt that he was Abel’s keeper he saw unevenness where God blessed both the same.
Do you see where I am going with this? How many of us feel the need to “keep” others, to somehow be their leaders instead of walking with them? Is this keeping nothing more than paternalism and a way of making gods of ourselves; trying to save people when maybe all they needed was to be looked upon as fellow brothers and sisters in the struggle?
This world is full of people who love to kneecap others with good intentions just so they can turn around and give them crutches of dependency that they call charity and goodwill. Every corner, countless masses trying to “keep” others while they disregard their own struggles and battles. Don’t think my own eyes are not currently throbbing with the hulking plank jutting in my own cornea as I write these words. It’s so much the easier to “keep” others, to feel as though we can solve their problems, than it is to actually address or own flaws and fix our own affairs.
So maybe we should try to keep less of others and actually walk with those who struggle; admitting our own inherent pains and struggles instead of thinking we have it all figured out and trying to give answers to others. Who are we to “keep” others when we are all being kept by a creator greater than us? We need to realize that we are all equally and intrinsically flawed trying to gain renewal in the very places we are damaged.
If we realized this paradigm—that we are all equally in this together with equal baggage and equal aspirations—maybe less of us would try to “keep” others and actually learn to be with others. It is easy to lead others, holding their hands and trying to shepherd them as if they need our benevolence in order to find redemption. The harder task and yet the task that yields fruit is to actually put our arms around the shoulders of those we aspire to help and say “I am with you, I know the struggles you go through for I struggle too”.
This is why we keep falling for politicians and pundits who promise to lead us—promising us a feast when in reality they are feasting on us. We are a pyramid of “keepers” at once being kept as we try to keep others, this is why injustice never ends. We are too busy trying to be gods of others and waiting for the demigods of this word—the rich, famous, and powerful—to save us in the process.
The greatest power that Eyesus possessed was not even supernatural. We are so caught up in how he healed people through his hands that we rarely appreciate that Eyesus actually mended people by walking with them and walking among them. He did not wear crowns to set himself apart from the people he came for. He did not wear fancy clothes nor was he being chauffeured around on expensive chariots and buggies. Nope, he wore humble sandals and clothing, living right with the broken that society ignored while the Pharisees were trading blessings for money. We have so mystified him that we forget his life was about humility and love for others by being with them not keeping them from a distance.
Perhaps we should stop being keepers of our brothers and sisters and actually be our brothers’ brother and our sisters’ sister. If we saw each other as fellow sojourners in this journey of life, we would stop trying to give answers to others and actually start a journey to find the answer together. And just like that we would find the answer in that collective search, for togetherness is the answer that can overcome the injustice of divisiveness.
Maybe equality can be arrived at when we stop thinking that one needs to help another to be equal. Maybe the very sign of equality ( = ) needs to change for it implies one being over the other. Maybe equality is two fingers touching each other, both equally broken yet hopeful and aspiring to help be with each other and by each other. These two fingers touching thus become one line and that line when it extends becomes a circle, a circle that is humanity and in that circle we find the God we have been searching for all along. For God exists within the connective circle that is humanity and the love that we have for one another.
If Cain did not see Abel as brother who he had to keep and was instead a brother to his brother, well maybe the story would have ended differently. And maybe this world would be not spinning and swimming in an inferno at this present moment.
~ This is an excerpt from “Soul to Soil” , which can be found on Amazon and will soon expand to other distributors. Thank you to everyone who has been part of my journey, butterflies emerge from caterpillars through cocoons—the struggle is what gives wing to our aspirations ~
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.
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