“Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Cain asked this question in response to God asking him where his brother Abel was. Of course, there was no way he would come right out and say the truth (“I hit him on the head with a rock and he’s buried out back, wanna see?”)
Not my brother’s keeper. He’s not my responsibility. She’s got her life to live, and I’ve got mine. They aren’t important to me. I wouldn’t know, and I wouldn’t care. (I don’t want to take care of someone outside of myself.)
That’s how the world works: everything is seen as an extension of the self because the universe is nothing more than one, cosmic neon sign pointing to me. We are designed to connect with other human beings in our journey through life. We’re not designed to live for ourselves. Easy words to say, much harder to live out.
Case in point: me.
I used to live right on the edge of the world. Built a hut on an island called Introversion, then surrounded myself with a moat filled with several dozen half-read books, all nine seasons of How I Met Your Mother, sushi, and fifteen pounds of scratch paper filled with ideas that remained ideas until I mustered the energy to change out of my pajamas.
I was a creature of obsessions and my top three obsessions, in no particular order, were: me, myself, and I.
I liked my hut. It was my me-time zone, a place where I can comfortably lounge around in my vices (overthinking and self-sabotaging) without suffering from anyone’s judgment. Here’s my bubble, I’ll stay in my bubble, thanks.
But as much as I enjoyed being Majestic Queen Supreme (Yes, it sounds like a pizza. Yes, that is both intentional and symbolic. No, I have no regrets.) of my own little world, there were a few things missing.
People, for one.
When you spend enough time eating ice cream on your couch, eventually, you’ll want to share that tub. (Yes, sharing ice cream is within the range of possible human emotions.) And after mostly 20 years, I finally wanted people to share ice cream with. I wanted people to cry on, people to call up with silly jokes at 12:30 am. I needed a shoulder to lean on whenever Barney Stinson showed his love for Robin Sherbatski. I wanted people, period.
But I couldn’t bring myself to ask anyone to accompany me. Why? Because I’ve never invested in the people in my life in the first place.
You see, I believe it goes both ways. We need others and others need us. If we’re never there for others, we have a self-sabotaging (there’s that word again) tendency not to let others be there for us.
And that’s tough, I tell you. I’ve been there many times.
If you used to be that kind of person (like the old me), do yourself a favor. Build a bridge across that metaphorical, self-made moat. Be intentional. Spend meaningful time with people that mean a lot to you, or could potentially mean a lot to you. Choose friends wisely, invest in them, be there for them. Be a light to their world. Loving people is a great thing. When you love others, you discover that life is about connecting to one another, loving one another, and overcoming our natural predispositions to selfishness.
Eventually, I decided that enough sushi-devouring by myself on my couch was enough (Not literally, though. Sushi is never enough.), and that I needed to go out there and be a person, not a museum artifact. So in 2013, I did. I took that first step of being around people and smiling. I didn’t even make excuses to go home because I had to write for my non-existent blog.
I discovered that it wasn’t so bad after all, so I continued on.
Enter 2015: Just a few weeks ago, while I was folding clothes and contemplating my solitary existence, my friends called me up at 10PM—on a Saturday—to drive me to dinner at a place that sold fantastic 23-peso rice porridges. They treated me out to dinner then told me that I should take care of myself. Right? Where else can you find that except in good relationships?! (The friends, I mean. Not the porridges. I’m unaware of how many good relationships come with cheap porridges. Is that a package deal? Sign me up.)
I love them. And they love me, even when I retreat to my little edge-of-the-world hut. It’s a weird thing, being a non-introvert introvert (intentional extro-introvert?), but that’s what makes love so wonderfully-written in the DNA of this universe.
Love is unnatural. Loves sees someone and puts value to that someone- outside of accomplishments, outside of what that person can do for you, outside of how you feel. Love makes time and spends energy for deeper relationships. Love overcomes hurdles. Love sees life and value, outside any measure of success. And love thrives on true unselfishness, letting us be a part of each other’s stories here on earth.
To answer God’s question, yes. We are our brothers’ keepers. Just as our brothers are our keepers. And by faith, grace, and patience towards one another and towards ourselves, we learn to build bridges rather than build huts.