Am I my brother’s keeper?
My younger brother Lyle and I once shared a bedroom on the second story of our house growing up. One hot summer afternoon while my mother was out shopping, my dad thought it would be a good time to clean the screens from our windows by removing them and spraying them down with the garden hose. I was probably just about six years old, which means Lyle was barely four. Four is the perfect age to know how to get into big trouble, and trouble was Lyle’s middle name.
As I walked into our room, there’s Lyle, wearing his pre-school backpack, perched upon the screenless, open window sill, and crouching as if about to jump out. I stopped to blink. “Lyle, get down from that window! You’ll fall!” He looked back at me with wild eyes, like he had just been caught red-handed in some delicious crime but was going to do it anyway. He leaned forward in slow motion. There was no stopping him now; my arrival was ruining his moment of triumphant achievement. If I didn’t act fast, my four-year-old little brother was going fling himself, backpack and all, into space. I lunged at him, grabbed him under his arms and tried to pull him back inside the second-story window. He clawed at the sides of the frame, grasping for freedom as I pulled him down. “Noooooooo!” he cried. We both fell backwards into the safety of our room, each angry at the other.
“What are you doing?!” I yelled.
“It’s ok!” he protested. “I have a parachute!”
“What?” I said, totally taken aback. “You don’t have a parachute.”
“Yes I do dum-dum!” he responded. “Look!”
With that, Lyle proceeded to remove his backpack, which had a short length of thick rope sticking out from where the zipper closed.
“See, I pull this rope”, Lyle said as he unzipped his backpack. “And my parachute comes out!” Inside Lyle’s backpack was a crumpled-up plastic grocery bag.
My six-year-old brain now all too painfully understood my brother’s youthfully misguided logic. He was going to jump out the window and before landing, was going to pull the rope (which wasn’t attached to anything- it was literally just held in place by the closed zipper) which would somehow magically cause the pack to open and the plastic bag to unfurl, allowing Lyle to grab it by the handles and float down to safety. An ambitious plan for a four-year old, but oh-so-mistaken. It was even more infelicitous that my dad was simply two stories below on the lawn, hosing off the screens under us, unawares of the deadly stunt his younger son was hoping to pull-off. If Lyle had jumped, and I had run to the window after him, I can only imagine how my shocked my dad would have been to see his young son bounce off the ground front of him, only to look up and see my head sticking out of the window. That would have looked awful. It would have appeared as if I pushed him. Dad would have killed me.
So I didn’t just save his life that day; I guess I saved my own as well.