And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?. Of course God knew that he had murdered his brother but He asked him anyway. Was God just making a point? It turns out that Cain answered God's question with a question - with a touch of arrogance and he was a liar in addition to being a murderer. Am I my brother's keeper? These words now symbolize the unwillingness to accept responsibility for what happens to our fellow man, or “brothers” in the broad sense of the term.
When my brother Joe suffered so many years of cancer treatments with no one to take care of him, naturally my sisters and I assumed responsibility for his care while he couldn't take care of himself. He was our brother after all. But how quickly would we step in to so intimately care for a stranger who had no one to care for him. I think most of us would fall short of being our "brother's keeper" if faced with the situation of actually taking a stranger into our homes to care for them. Nowadays, there are safety and legal issues that sometimes keep us at arms length of other people's problems. I have been battling with those thoughts lately. Where do you draw the line on what's helping and what's interfering?
Some of you may remember a few weeks back when I wrote about Fulton, an eighty-seven year old acquaintance we've known for a couple of years. He sells produce at the open air market where we have our weekend business at the coast. He doesn't live at the coast full time - just on weekends where he has a small second home. At one time, he had many friends there, but one of the downsides of living to be so old is that you start losing friends who care about you. He has family who cares about him back home , but they are having difficulty coming to terms with the fact that he needs more care than they are giving him. He should not be driving - he falls asleep at the drop of a hat. In recent months, he has gotten lost and ended up seventy miles off track from his normal way home and I suspect he may have had some small strokes in the last few months. He forgets to eat and to stay hydrated in this incessantly hot weather we're having. In other words, someone needs to take his keys away and make him stay home. I know it's difficult for children of an aging parent to take on the parental role - they don't want to take away his independence.
Saturday morning, I had quite a scare. As soon I arrived at the market, I went over to see how Fulton was doing. He had some customers for the grapes he brought to market, but I noticed a look of concern on the face of one of the women who was trying to buy his grapes. I got closer and saw that he was very confused - not even knowing how to weigh the grapes on the scale. He was just standing there with a glazed and fixed look. I told him to sit down and I would take care of his customers. After getting him settled down with a Gatorade, I called another friend who knows him better than I know him and asked her to bring him something to eat. We finally determined that he had forgotten to take his medication and he had forgotten to eat breakfast. He was insistant that he stay there until he sold all of his grapes. I'm sure you can guess what I did? Yes, I weighed his remaining seven pounds of grapes and bought all of them. You should have seen his face - he no longer had an excuse to stay.
By that time, we had given him something to eat and called his son back home who spoke to him and told him that they needed him at home. As worried as I was about him driving, we hesitantly sent him on his way. His son called back later to let us know that he had made it home safely. I think his family is finally getting the picture - and I pray that they take charge of his affairs and either keep him home or make the trip with him.
It's so hard to know what's the right thing to do in a situation like that. He falls through the cracks with Adult Protection Services since he's only a weekender at the coast. Fulton is a kind old man who wants to continue to live his life to the fullest. My hands are tied on what type of role I can play in being my "brother's keeper". His family is ultimately responsible for his care, but I just wish they could make him realize it's time to relinquish some of his independence and let them take care of him. I guess the only thing to do is to continue to call them no matter how uncomfortable it may be to let them know we are concerned about his safety and convince them that they should be too.
Being our brother's keeper doesn't mean we have to assume responsibilty for their care, but it means we should care enough to do whatever is in our means to do. Sometimes we have to get out of our comfort zone to do it. But when do we cross the line? When does our help become interference?