Thursday, November 14, 2013

Is it Love or Burden?

Once upon a time, when cars were only for rich people and life had fewer commodities than today, there
was a young eight year old boy named John who, from birth, had lived with crippled legs and feet. Unable to move about with much liberty, it was the task of his elder brother Matthew to carry him for half-an-hour to school every day where they studied together. Whether hot or cold, sunny or rainy, ten year old Matthew    

was always to be found with John on his shoulders.

Along the cobbled country lane which Matthew strode to bring young John to class, there lived an elderly couple who watched the two go by their cottage day by day. In summer they would give the boys cool lemonade to drink and in the winter, a hot potato for them to put in their trouser pockets so that their legs wouldn’t go numb with the bitter cold on the way to school. As they left the couple’s cottage, Matthew and John always remembered to say, “Thank you, sir. Thank you, miss.” Mrs. George was particularly overwhelmed by their constant thankfulness and jovial spirit. For her, the boys were like the grandchildren she had never had. “They don’t make lads like that anymore, Jack,” she said to her husband.

Although the words shared amongst the boys and the Georges tended to be sparse, on one snowy and dark December morning, Matthew looked a little downcast. His sniffles and sneezes and watery eyes showed that he had caught the cold. He blew his nose incessantly and at times had to let John down off his back to take the hanky out of his hand-held leather schoolbag.
Needless to say, the boys were advancing slower than usual. As they passed the old couple’s house, Mr. and Mrs. George offered the brothers a steaming cup of tea. But that day they had to refuse. “No thank you, miss. Not today.” School started at quarter-past seven. They had ten minutes to make a twenty minute journey. There would be trouble with the professor and trouble back home.

Recalling that cold winter morning, Mr. George felt compelled to ask Matthew a heart-to-heart question in the mid-June summer when John had to stay home with a bad dose of fever.

“Why are you alone today, boy?” Mr. George asked.

“It’s John, sir. He’s sick. He has to stay with mum. But he’s going to be alright. The doctor says he’ll be as fit as a fiddle next week,” replied Matthew.

“Boy, I’ve been meaning to ask you something. You carry your younger brother around on your shoulders all year round and I’ve never heard you utter so much as a word of complaint. At times, is the burden not too heavy to carry? Do you ever get tired of having to take care of him?”

“Sir,” answered Matthew, “John’s not a burden. John’s my brother.”

“Very well, boy. Off you go, now. Have a good day at school,” commented Mr. George.

As Matthew marched off into the distance, tears welled up in old Jack’s eyes. His stoic appearance had been overcome with floods of compassion and a tight knot in his throat. Mrs. George, coming from the kitchen, found him with his head bowed in the living room. “Jack, what is it?” she asked.

“He’s not a burden. He’s my brother,” replied Mr. George, “He’s not a burden. He’s my brother.”

For some strange reason, Mrs. George knew understood exactly what old Jack was referring to.  She took her husband’s tear-stained hands to her lips, saying, “Dear, you have never been a burden for me. And I hope I have never been one for you. Where love is at work, all burdens disappear and count as nothing.”

Will Graham