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Henri Nouwen’s words remind me of the importance of carrying your brother with compassion.  The word compassion’s Latin derivatives mean to suffer with. Nouwen points out that “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears…” (1982, p. 3-4). I had to soul search whether I hold a deep compassion for others that would propel me to carry my brother.

Jan Paron / June 22, 2012
From the Living in Brotherhood series

Recently, I came across a Facebook video post of the Hollies performing He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. (See above.) The song’s content strikes as relevant a chord today, as it did when Americans Bobby  Scott and Bobby Russell wrote it in the sixties inspired by Boy’s Town and the film of that same name. It presents a powerful trajectory about brotherhood: carrying one another, bearing someone’s burdens and sharing another’s load. Perhaps most important, it highlights the feeling of sadness over the absence of love for one another.

The song hit the top twenty United Kingdom charts in 1969 and United States twice during the following year, covered by the Hollies and Neil Diamond. This was a tumultuous period in Unites States history characterized by clashes over racial integration, female equality, farm workers rights, emerging generation and Vietnam Conflict. I was seventeen when the Hollies released He Ain’t’ Heavy, He’s My Brother in 1969. Every day I watched current events showing the latest news across the world. I still recall vivid television photos and film showing wounded Vietnam soldiers and embattled civil rights workers from that era. – One important piece was missing from the humanity of these events. I lacked a connection between television images and real people. Despite seeing the med evacuation of a dying soldier, I never comprehended the loss of grieving family over their son or daughter. Even though people faced intense opposition to gain equal rights, I did not encounter closed doors for I was born into privilege. That my parents vowed their children would never go through what they did during the Great Depression, I did not work long hours under stressful conditions.

The wounded, hurt, oppressed and poor. These were my brothers and sisters, my neighbors, yet I did not know them. Like many seventeen year olds, I focused on the now of daily social affairs. Although I was a Christian, the world revolved around my needs and desires. So, I only recollect the song’s soulful sound, rather its message of carrying another person.

Images from the Vietnam War still form a fresh picture. Etched in my memory, I see a soldier carrying a wounded soldier, a single child or even a Viet Cong fighter. The U.S. Army Soldier’s Creed makes purpose clear. It stresses a soldier’s mission, identity, commitment, perseverance and community and responsibility to others:

I am an American Soldier.

I am a warrior and member of a team. I served the people of the United States and live the Army values.

I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never quit.

I will never leave a fallen comrade. (Army Soldier’s Creed)

Compassion, Jan Paron, 2012

Keep in mind that a creed is a statement of beliefs.  Now, reframe it as the Lord’s Army Soldier’s Creed:

I am a soldier of the army of the Lord.

I am a Christian warrior and member of the household of God. I serve Christ’s flock and live out Christian values with others.

I will always place God’s mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never quit.

I will never leave a fallen brother or neighbor.

Do I consistently live out this creed for the cause of the Gospel? Moreover, does my compassion convict me to say I will never leave a fallen brother or neighbor? I must ask myself these questions.

Carrying Your Brother

“So on we go. His welfare is of my concern. No burden is he to bear. We’ll get there. For I know. He would not encumber me. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” (Scott & Russell).

To ponder

Do you carry your brother or neighbor?