Twentieth century Afrikaner author and political advisor Laurens Van der Post tells the story of two brothers who lived in South Africa. The older brother was strong, tall, handsome, intelligent, an excellent athlete. His parents sent him away to an exclusive private school where he soon became an admired leader of the student body.
His younger brother, six years younger, was neither good looking nor capable, and was also a hunchback. But he had one great gift. He had a magnificent singing voice.
Eventually the younger brother joined the older at the same boarding school. They were so different from each other no one knew they were related. One day in a cruel outbreak of mob psychology, a group of students ganged up on the younger brother, started making fun of him, tore off his shirt to reveal his hunchback, and then taunted, jeered and laughed at him.
The older brother, as it turns out, was in the chemistry lab trying to complete an assignment when he heard the commotion outside and went to the window to see what was happening. He saw the ugly scene with his brother in the middle of the gang being humiliated by those sadistic students. He made a painful decision – afraid of losing his popularity with the student body, he chose to not go out and face the crowd and acknowledge that the strange hunchback was his brother to put an end to the whole sorry mess. Staying in the lab and going back to his assignment, he left his brother to the mob and out of fear betrayed him by what he failed to do.
The younger brother was never the same again. He returned home to his parents’ farm where he kept to himself and refused to sing, his humiliation and embarrassment locking the song in his soul . After graduating, the older brother became a soldier in WWII, stationed in Palestine where every night his painful betrayal ate away at his heart.
One night, lying outdoors in the middle of Palestine in the midst of the war, and gazing up into the starlit sky, the older brother thought about his younger brother, how defeated and pained he had been when he went back home, and how he had refused to sing again – his heart and soul had been betrayed. The older brother lay there night after night imagining the pain and suffering of his brother that he had caused. He began to feel that hurt keenly. And his heart told him that he would never have peace until he went home and asked his brother’s forgiveness. And so he made the incredibly difficult, dangerous wartime journey from Palestine to South Africa.
The brothers talked long into the night, the older one confessing his guilt and remorse. They cried together, embraced, and the breach between them began to heal.
Late that night, after the older brother had fallen asleep, he was startled awake by a sound. He went to the window, and there out on the open lawn was his brother, face lifted toward the stars, singing again, the beautiful song soaring into the night sky. An act of compassion had set the song in his younger brother’s soul free again and had unlocked his own soul, too.
Spirituality is the journey of being set free – free to sing the God-given, unique and personalized song that is often trapped in our souls, free to learn how to truly sing that song again unabashedly, shamelessly, courageously, truthfully, authentically.
And what tragic consequences, as the story reminds us, when we live in fear or judgment of others. The song we have always been meant to sing to the world becomes trapped inside.
It continues to amaze me how much influence you and I have over each other in our journeys, for good or for ill, for freedom or for bondage, for expression or for suppression. I’m in awe of the power of compassion, forgiveness, acceptance to free our songs. It impresses me how people in my life have related to me in a way that has empowered me to sing my song in a way that’s truly me and in a way that no one else on earth can sing just like me. It hasn’t been their criticism and judgment of me that has set my song free. It has been their tender compassion, acceptance, and encouragement that have made the difference. It has been their nonanxious presence to hold space for me in a spirit of unconditional support. It has been their undying belief in me as a worthy human being and their confidence in my calling and purpose in the world. These gifts have set my song free again and again. And I’ve been empowered to sing with joy, courage, and more and more abandon. And when I sing my song authentically, others are empowered and emboldened to sing their song, too. The cycle of life.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.