Brotherhood – a reflection on formation of spiritual family


The following is an excerpt from my current book-length project tentatively titled “Prometheus Rising:  Philanthropy, Altruism and Self-Interest in a Socially Connected World”.  I’m currently working on the first draft of this work and have no projected release date.  In the past book projects have taken about 2 years to complete so stay tuned but expect a release sometime in late 2019 or early 2020.

I never had a brother.  I have two older sisters but no brothers so understanding the nature of brotherhood has been a bit of a journey for me.  And it’s only really been in the last few years that I’ve come to embrace the whole concept of Christian Brotherhood.  My friend Jeff has been a tremendous teacher for me here.

In the fall of 2013 about 18 months after having uprooted my entire life and moved to Ottawa from suburban Toronto so that we could help take care of my wife’s aging family, I was at the end of my rope.

Dealing with aging parents is one thing, doing it while your spouse is going through a major bout of depression and anxiety, your brother-in-law is dealing with the situation through anger and your mother-in-law is just needy and can’t express herself without making demands is quite another.  Add to all that the fact that I was trying to start a new business, I was constantly running on empty.

I’m a people-pleaser by nature.  I want everyone around me to be happy all the time.  I’m also very task oriented so if there is any kind of physical work to be done I am the first person to pick up a mop or offer to drive you to an appointment.  But there was just so much to do and neither my wife nor my brother-in-law seemed capable of putting aside their own anxieties and stepping up to get it done, as a result most of the “heavy lifting” fell to me.

The stress of keeping it all together while my wife fell apart eventually got to be too much to handle.  Oh, and in case you missed it, the sick and aging parents aren’t even mine.

One night, in a fit of anxiety of my own I reached out our church for help.

Two days later I was introduced to Jeff.  Jeff is a few years my junior but in many ways, he is far more mature than myself in dealing with the stresses of being a caregiver to the sick and needy.  Although not a professional psychologist by any stretch Jeff quickly diagnosed my situation as a textbook case of caregiver fatigue.  He was able to do so because he too was a caregiver to an anxious and depressed spouse.  A few years before, his wife had gone through a similar breakdown to the one my wife was experiencing.  As a result he could relate to me in a way no other person could.

Jeff was able to come along side me in my time of need and guide me down a pathway he had traveled himself not so long ago.

I like to describe my relationship with Jeff as similar to two men who find themselves mired in a swamp.  Many people had tried show me the way out of that particular swamp before, but they had flown by in helicopters high above the muck and the mire, or sped by in boats.  These people had pointed in a direction that I should go and then sped off leaving me alone to figure it out for myself.  Jeff on the other hand showed up deep in the muck himself, wearing hip waders and said; “come with me, I know the way.”

The Christian propensity to call each other brother and sister had, until I met Jeff, always seemed hollow and forced.  But in him I found a true brother, someone who demonstrated philia (brotherly love) in a way I had never before experienced.

Over the course of several months we would meet for coffee in a quite downtown shop, slightly off the beaten path and talk about our experience.  As often as not we would sit shoulder to shoulder at the bar, rather than face to face at a table.  Jeff would say that men tend to be more willing to speak honestly when we didn’t have to look directly at each other. He said it had something to do with centuries of evolution working side by side in the forests and the fields rather than face to face in the home that had made it easier for men to forge bonds “shoulder to shoulder”.

Whatever, I didn’t care, all I cared about was that I finally found someone who could not only listen to my struggles but with whom I could share an experience without wondering if he was silently judging me.  What I learned from Jeff and how my wife and I started to put our lives back together while forging a new path isn’t the subject of this book.  But the compassion that I felt while living through some of those darkest days has helped form the basis of my research into philanthropy.

We get the word philanthropy from philia – brotherly love.  It is a recognition of the fact that we are all in is together.  Your burdens are my burdens.  As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians;

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. [Galatians 6:2]

I never would have learned that lesson if I hadn’t found a brother in Jeff.

 

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