I have a famous older brother, at least to those who follow football, but I also have a younger brother whose life is much more secluded and private. He has worked for the same organization since he left school, which is over 45 years ago, and while the running of the organization has changed hands, the location has moved, and the nature of the work has altered dramatically with developments in systems and technology throughout those years, he has been there as an ever-constant presence, like an immovable rock in an ever-changing sea.
He hates missing work, and rarely has, in all that time, apart from a couple of strokes which saw him hospitalised for a period. No sooner would he be out of hospital than he was making plans to get back to work as soon as was humanly possible, and even on occasion when it didn’t seem humanly possible. He is a man of routine, and those routines are sacrosanct.
Since coming back to Scotland, I have tried to call up to him once a week to have a chat and watch some television together. Last Monday when I called up he wasn’t there and I wondered and worried what was keeping him so late. Not long afterwards he appeared with a splint in his hand, having been at the hospital for most of the day. It turns out he’d had a fall the previous Saturday but declined to mention it or do anything about it, until he appeared into work on Monday morning with a black eye, a swollen hand, sore feet, and a stiff shoulder. Thankfully he was ordered by kindly colleagues to get himself to the hospital where it was discovered he had two broken metacarpals. The poor guy must have been in agony, but in his own stoical way he had just intended to soldier on as if nothing had happened.
I stayed with him that night and helped him to get up the next day before I headed in to St. Mungo’s. He has a number of other health issues too, and was really quite incapacitated. I went back to him that evening to discover he had spent the day practicing various ways of rendering himself more mobile. Later in the evening he asked me what my plans were. I told him that I was intending staying the night again, to which he furtively replied: “You do know I’m going to go back to work tomorrow, don’t you?”
I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised, and neither were his work colleagues. He reminds me of one of those TV characters like the great Jack Bauer in 24 who, after being beaten, stabbed, shot and blown up, pulls the tubes out of his body in the hospital, to get up and get on with the task at hand. In fact, I remember back in 2010, just a week or so after my brother had come out of hospital after suffering a stroke, he went back to work in the midst of a snow blizzard. Sometime during that day the buses were taken off the road. Someone kindly gave him a lift as far as they could, and then he ended up walking about 5 miles knee deep in snow the rest of the way, still intending to go to work the next day. I knew nothing about it until I phoned him from Dublin later that night. As I write, I am preparing to bring him to hospital in the morning, perhaps to get a stookie, and, no doubt, he will be back at work shortly after.
While my older brother pursued his journalistic career and raised a family, and I pursued my Passionist studies and moved around in various ministries, our younger brother facilitated us in doing that by assuming the major share, by far, of looking after our mother in the latter years of her life, which he did lovingly and willingly, without complaint. To me he is one of those unsung heroes of ordinary life who just gets on with things no matter what, and asks for nothing in return. If I were to choose a Gospel image that might capture him, it would be Jesus, setting his face firmly towards Jerusalem, despite those trying to advise him against it, determined to do what he was meant to do, resolute and committed, to the very end.
As Christopher Reeve once said: A hero is an ordinary individual, who finds the strength to persevere and endure, in spite of overwhelming obstacles.