…about my brother’s elbow and compassion.

when i was little, i liked to be in charge.

as you might have guessed, this hasn’t changed much.

but as a younger, pre-pubescent version of my bossy self, i didn’t understand the importance of placing another person’s needs before my own. i, like 90 percent of tween girls, was focused on myself – my needs, my wants, my toys, my time, ME, ME, ME.

but one afternoon, when my younger brother Brian and i were arguing about something VERY important, like world peace or hungry children or (well, probably over whose turn it was to use the Gameboy), i used all of my pre-teen girly muscles (read: zero) to push my brother off of the plaid loveseat in our living room.

as a reminder, i took pride in my role as the older sibling. i was THE BOSS. and clearly, Brian wasn’t following my directives.

yet when Brian collided with the carpet, his face twisted in pain, and as he reached for his elbow, my eyes grew bigger and bigger.

CRAP. now i was in trouble.

my parents came running, of course (Brian’s always been the favorite child – if it had been me thrashing in agony on the floor, they would likely have told me to quit the dramatics and shush), and after a short time of demanding to know “what happened,” during which they were entirely disinterested in my retelling of the offenses that Brian had committed against me, and instead asked me to focus on the act of shoving him a mere three feet to the ground, we headed to the hospital.

THE HOSPITAL. how’s that for dramatic?

yet, when we arrived in the emergency room, with tears still spilling out of Brian’s eyes, the doctors did their thing, and then delivered the news of Brian’s diagnosis: his elbow had been dislocated in the fall from pukey-plaid loveseat to carpeted floor.

i was REALLY in trouble.

after a particularly painful few moments, in which i sat outside of an examination room while the doctors REPOSITIONED MY BROTHER’S ELBOW BACK IN PLACE (oh, the screams), my parents delivered the verdict: i was to be Brian’s “servant” (read: slave) as punishment for this unfortunate deed.

let’s be real for a minute – i did feel badly that Brian was hurt. but servanthood seemed too severe a sentence for a silly accident.

i protested this penance to my parents. Brian’s always been the athlete in the family. he shouldn’t have landed so awkwardly, i told my parents. he was asking for it, Mom.

i watched my mom’s face fall, and as i heard her frustrated sigh, a sign of emotional exhaustion due to the day’s events, i slumped in my chair and attempted a pre-teen-colored inventory of my feelings.

why was i feeling guilty? it was all an accident, of course – we all knew that i didn’t push Brian off the loveseat with the intention of injuring him. i felt sorry, certainly. but i didn’t think i deserved to be at his beck and call for DAYS on end.

i was convinced that he would take full advantage of me and make me perform silly tasks, like digging through the cubbies under his bed for a long-lost toy that he didn’t want in the first place, or requesting three crackers, only to request an additional four crackers just a few minutes later. you know – typical brother-sister torture.

Brian was released from the hospital with a sling and stringent instructions to immobilize his arm. yet instead of ringing a bell whenever he needed his pillow fluffed or the TV channel changed to a different sporting event, Brian rarely sought my assistance.

and surprisingly, his reluctance to allow me to pay my penance – to meet his needs – made me IRATE. (again, as THE BOSSY ONE, i like it when people listen to me.)

even though we enjoyed playing basketball together in the driveway and embarking upon long bike rides along the dirt-packed trails of the nature area near our house, our four-year age difference, stubborn streaks that rivaled only our Grandpa Bill, and entertainment preferences (Barbies for me, sports for him) made for contentious conflicts at times.

but this injury changed everything for me.

when my self-absorbed heart saw an active kid like Brian largely sidelined because of something i did, my compassionate instincts bubbled up. prior to this, i definitely considered myself a compassionate person – i would often rescue our cat, Josie, from Brian’s playful torture attempts; i grew teary when watching ASPCA commercial’s with Sarah McLachlan’s sad song playing in the background; i wanted to protect my Dad from the danger that is lighting fireworks to celebrate Independence Day.

yet, my compassion for my “annoying little brother” surprised me in this moment; instead of escaping into fiction or dramatic television, i wanted to do whatever i could to make him more comfortable, and since he was hesitant to allow me to do so, i had to get creative.

i fetched Jell-o and crackers and juice under the guise that our Mom sent me to deliver them.

i brought him Hot Wheels cars and Ninja Turtles action figures to play with, even though he could only do so with one arm, with the excuse that he needed to keep his fingers and muscles working to speed up his recovery.

i still think sometimes about how preposterous that injury was, and how we probably couldn’t recreate the exact same incident over again – his elbow must have hit the ground just so to cause the dislocation.

but what i recall more now, with decades of hindsight, is what i learned about myself.

sometimes, it takes a freak accident to move an overbearing, self-involved girl to compassion.

but once that compassion takes hold, it remains, and it grows.

that, and younger brothers should ALWAYS let their bossy older sisters get their way…or else.

{photo credit – Creative Kindling}

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