Cain murdered Abel. Jacob cheated Esau. Joseph's brothers sold him for twenty shekels and would probably have paid twice that to get him out of their hair. The Prodigal's elder brother couldn't stand being in the same room with him even with a fatted calf for inducement. As the Bible presents it, one of the closest of all relationships is also one of the saddest.

Envy and fear are apparently near to the heart of it-one brother is afraid the other is loved more, favored more, given and forgiven more, gets away with more-but that doesn't seem enough of an explanation somehow. You have a sense of signals crossed, of opportunities missed, of messages unheard or unheeded, in short of love gone wrong. You can't help thinking what friends they might have been if they hadn't been enemies. Cain giving Abel a hand with the spring lambing. Jacob letting Esau have his pottage just for the hell of it.

We all have the same dark secrets and the same bright hopes. We come from the same place and are headed in the same direction. Above everything else maybe, we all want to be known by each other and to know each other. Iraq and the United States, the Arabs and the Israelis, the terrorists and the terrorized-we are all of us brothers, all of us sisters.

Yet from the way we manage things most of the time, who in a million years would ever guess it? Who can remain unmoved by the thought of how the world might be if we only managed things right?

~originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words