Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Elder Son

Some fiction for your Friday...

Yes, well. Of course you know the story, the story of my younger brother, in which I play the foil's part. Advanced inheritance; dissolution: wine, women, gambling, banquets, all the usual; money exhausted; the dramatic return; and his father's -- our father's -- joyful forgiveness. It's not a story, I realize, in which I come off well. I assure you I'm at least self aware enough to know that. I'm not here to make excuses. The grand emotional appeals have always been my brother's forte anyway. And at this remove, however much I may see myself as the hero of my own story, I know that it is my brother who holds a special appeal to people.

He, of course, is telling no stories now. He is in that eternal moment which needs no telling and is untellable. While I, always ahead and so always behind, am here to talk to you.

You will be thinking, by now, that I am "just" a fictional character. That would, I sometimes think in my still unperfected state, have been a comfort. Then I would have been "the elder son" and nothing more. But no. I am as real as any other invention of the divine mind. And so, naturally, my brother and I were followers of the Savior. Yes, me too. I could always be relied on to keep the accounts and purchase food to be distributed to the widows and orphans, to re-read the letters of the Apostles to the children or the catechumens and offer up my own -- perhaps over-smug -- thoughts on them. I was a linchpin, invaluable for my organizational skills, if I may so confess. And my brother. Well, he stole the money from the charitable purse -- no, not for the reason I've let you think, for a satisfying moment, by saying that. He stole the money and gave it all away at once. My weekly distributions were so orderly, but he gave it all away. I, on the other hand, worried about how we'd find the money to feed the widows the next week.

I clung to system and sense and frowned on those who were swept away by their feelings about the Savior -- in part because I have seldom been blessed with any such feelings myself. I could fast and give away my possessions with the best of them, but unlike the best of them I did so because I thought it was the right thing, not because I believed it was.

Thinking. Calculating. Reasoning. These were the things I was comfortable with. And the regularity of discipline. When the persecutions came, under Nero, I organized our community. I planned a new meeting place each week, secret passwords, people were not to go about in groups, no strangers to be admitted. I was determined not to lose a single one of those entrusted to my care. And my brother. He had a different determination. He was determined to preach the faith to the legionaries.

Well. That worked out. And if there's any single thing I can be proud of it's that when dragged before the governor I did not deny the Savior. Though I soiled myself while remaining silent. And bit my tongue quite viciously.

My brother prayed for our persecutors as we hung there. I cursed them, and shouted that the Romans had no business in Judea, that we were a free people and would always be such even if only in the freedom of death. His grand gesture was more in keeping with our maker than was mine. I'm sure that when he saw The Presence, he rushed forward, impulsive and childish as he always was. I held back, not turning away from that I longed for, but too proud to rush forward when I could have wished that someone, at last, would rush to me and say, "Welcome back, my favorite son."

And so here, neither coming nor going, I stay. Waiting. Trying to bend my will I thought so well-formed so that it will conform to the One which it loves imperfectly.

Perhaps, if you find time -- I can't say that I'm the most exciting project, I understand that there are far more who hold out hope for Judas or for Nero than for me, if only because so few know that I am something other than "a parable" -- dispatch a prayer or two for me. That some day I can overcome my wish that He would recognize how hard I've worked in my stolid way for him, and instead rush forward myself as my brother did so long ago and say, "Father, I have sinned."


Anonymous said...

Hey, I really like that.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's me.

Julia said...


JHB said...

Beautiful, although I've always hoped such people - who through little fault of their own are not particularly affective - would be particularly over-joyed in "The Presence". Perhaps granted a particular share of the emotion they were not blessed with during their earthly life; acting on reason can be (I won't say is) more difficult than simply responding to emotions as they come, particularly as most realize the fallibility of reason as they get older. But, then, what else would someone prone to being overly analytic say? In any case, very nice.

Gail F said...

I like this but -- although I don't think you meant it this way -- it does imply that people who think more than they feel are somehow deficient. Some people are not made to be swayed by their emotions; they are made to be swayed by their thoughts. They are not inferior and their faith, though different, may be quite as strong as the other kind. It's what they do with this faith that matters, and your fictional brother is a good example of people who do not let it rule their lives. But many real people with the thinking sort of faith have followed it in ways that are inspiring, and that are impossible for the "feeling-led" people because they require a different sort of action and self-control. Both kinds can be great saints and both kinds can fall. This is not a criticism of your blog, which I love! Just a comment because no blog post can possibly say everything.

Darwin said...

Gail and JHB,

Well, part of what I wanted to do was make the elder brother seem sympathetic -- because I generally identify more with him than with the younger. So in trying to make him seem sympathetic while still keeping his basic faults (while he's able to live up to his father's expectations he resented his father being so joyful over his brother's return) I made him a lot like me, in the sense of being analytical rather than affective.

Of course, maybe I made him too sympathetic, given where I've put him, which is, essentially, in a long term stint in purgatory.

I feel like the elder brother's basic fault here, and maybe I didn't do a good job of having this come through in the piece, is that he's holding back, wanting God to recognize him as a favorite over his younger brother. He can't accept that God loves both of them the same. Though I think he's made a lot of progress in that direction. He probably sounds more pleasant now than he would have while still alive.

It seems like there's a ticklish balance to this sort of thing, as it seemed like it would be cheap to simply have the elder brother to be "the real good one", because of course, he isn't.

Literacy-chic said...

Just found this. I like it--a LOT. I, too, identify with the elder brother--not quite as much here, because I'm not so analytic. But he is the "responsible" one who is overlooked, and bitter about it. Nice the way you put it into perspective.