My brother’s keeper

After the usual pleasantries we sat down to lunch. The soup was served without a hitch. Not so the distribution of the bread which was greeted with some consternation. A guest, or was it my wife, had noticed that one end of the baguette was missing. Somebody had removed, and presumably eaten, this much-coveted crusty morsel. Questions were raised and fingers pointed and, after confessing to being responsible for its absence, I was called upon for an explanation. It was not I who had eaten the ‘nose’ but a 10-month old boy improbably named Ray. How so?

In front of me in the queue at the baker’s that morning had been an infant in a pushchair. He was miserable, moany and listless; his mother smiley but unmoved. She explained that he did not have a dummy (after her experience with his older brother, Ray was not given one) and that usually he was happy with a bit of paper. Clearly he wasn’t. I suggested he might like a piece of crust to chew on. The mother smiled again but did and said nothing. I would be buying a baguette for lunch so I picked up one on display, broke off an end and asked the mother if he might like it. Now there was a smile of agreement from the mother but no more. I gave the crust to the child. He looked me over, scrutinised the bread, carefully put it to his mouth and then started to chew. Moaning stopped and now mum looked pleased but quizzical.

By way of defence, I found myself saying that the boy was, at one and the same time, her child and a child of the world. I felt I should help relieve his obvious misery, so I did. I then added that she too was a citizen of the world and were someone to come into the shop and threaten her, I would have come to her aid and protected her. I am not sure how convinced she was but that is indeed how I feel and how I would have reacted. Moreover, this has been my position since a child and was probably reinforced later when I was a doctor.

Several years ago we were flying economy class back from Spain. The family of three behind us were impossible not only arguing continuously but also, and despite numerous requests, kneeing us in our backs through the very poorly sprung seats. At one moment the bickering was limited to the two women, with the older man sitting between them now silent. My wife happened to look round and whispered to me that the man looked grey, his jaw had dropped, his eyes had turned skyward and that perhaps he was dead. I agreed, jumped out of my seat and without saying a word moved the two women aside. As I could find no pulse in his neck, I laid the corpse out in the aisle, brusquely shoved an enquiring air hostess out of the way and gave the man two or three almighty thumps to his chest. Much to my surprise his pulse returned, as did his colour, and he opened his eyes. In keeping with his erstwhile manner he then complained, as did his two companions (why had I hit him so hard?). He survived the rest of the flight and left the plane when it arrived in London, still complaining. Never a word said to me.

I don’t know what it is all about, but my actions are spur-of-the-moment (no time to think) and interventionist. Often the instances haunt me as I question whether I had been wise. And, although reviving an old man and offering comfort to a child are not of the same order they are part of my belief that I (we all) should be our brother’s (or sister’s, children’s, etc.) keeper. However, I am not at all clear as to where the edges are to such behaviour and to what extent it is over-intrusive.

After my explanation for the absent nose the diners forgave me and the lunch continued. And what a lunch it was too.

And now… a Christmas cracker.

To celebrate our first year without being  closed down or extradited by the dark forces trying to suppress further commentary on the Great Pears Soap Disaster, we have a very special (and free) gift suggestion for our loyal reader. If you have the kind of friends who already have everything, this is the answer. Read on…

2 comments on “My brother’s keeper
  1. Man Mountain says:

    I have over my years tried often if I could to help those who have seemed of need. Sometimes with a hot meal or a helping hand or company on a cold dark night walking someone home letting them feel safe in anothers company. Though I have helped others usualy without needing gratitude still it is nice to be thanked, often I feel some people just don’t really know how to say thankyou, maybe because of a sence of pride or because they have just forgotten how to. I’ll not stop helping those who seem in need and just like Joe I am content to carry on helping my universal brothers and sisters.

  2. ian bruce says:

    Good one Joe! What this prompted in me is the realisation that in order to intervene you might need a “help others” philosophy but you also need relevant experience and knowledge which breeds confidence to act. As a “typical Englishman”, I am reserved in these matters unless I feel confident in knowing what to do (and/or I have had a beer!). So I would feel confident about offering help to a blind person (because I worked for RNIB for a long time), but not a deaf person and cerainly not someone having a heart attack on a plane. Ian

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