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Keep a secret or step in?

Your sister-in-law lends you a novel she recently finished. Tucked inside, you find a business card she likely used as a bookmark. It’s for a divorce lawyer, and a date and time are written on the back. You didn’t know she and your brother were having problems. The appointment is tomorrow. What do you do?

By Connie denBok and Bob Giuliano

In the book of Genesis, the first question ever posed by a human being to God is “Am I my brother’s keeper?” 

I don’t know whether the business card is a coded message intended for my eyes, or if the card was left in her book by accident, or whether it was someone else’s random scrap, repurposed as a bookmark. But the important question for me is this: to what extent am 
I accountable before God for the people with whom I am kin? 

Like Cain in the original story, I would prefer the answer be “No, it is nobody else’s business what I do or leave undone.” But as Cain found for himself, ties of kinship are of great interest to God; they are the primal loom on which all our relationships are woven. 

I am genuinely shocked to find myself so clueless as to whether my brother and sister-in-law are on the verge of divorce. Surely they couldn’t keep a secret so vital without dropping clues. Could they?

Where have I been? Obviously superficially close enough to borrow recently finished novels. But oblivious, or distracted, or perhaps too self-absorbed to give my full attention to the lives of those I love. 

What will my brother and sister-in-law do tomorrow? I don’t know for sure, but this day I will resolve to pay attention, to be available, to cross their field of vision in times and places where they can reach out to me if needed.

I cannot solve this couple’s problems, and I don’t need unlimited access to their hurts and secrets. But I am my brother’s — and my sister-in-law’s — keeper in the sense that when the Spirit brings them to mind or when a business card falls from a borrowed novel, I will pray. And should God send me as an agent of reconciliation, I will approach them with what they need to hear, not what I need to share. 

Author's photo
Rev. Bob Giuliano is a retired minister who lives in Owen Sound, Ont.

I wish for the possibility that the card belonged to the person who loaned my sister-in-law the book. I am hoping that the whole thing is a mistake.

My mind spins, but it tells me how uncertain I am about my brother and his family. Where have I been? What kind of brother have I been to have no hunch about the troubles in their house? Maybe I need to waken from what American theologian Paul Tillich called “the land of dreaming innocence.”

I am an old guy. I was trained in an era when Freudian slips and apparent mistakes were taken as unconscious betrayals of real wishes and desires. Folks don’t talk like that much anymore, but I still rummage around in that closet of the mind for the truth of things.

I assume that my sister-in-law wanted me to see this card, either consciously or unconsciously. So, armed with that assumption, I have to decide why she loaned me the book with the card in it.

Has she been sworn to secrecy, my brother convincing her that we should not know yet? Is she full of rage and wounded, wanting to get everything out in the open and knowing that we would all waken to their sorrow sooner or later? Or does she want to provide family support for her husband so she can step out of their marriage? 

I hope that I don’t have to enter into another heart-breaking separation and divorce of people I love. I am also afraid of finding out that my brother is a jerk.

Full of anxiety, questions and fearful speculation, I pick up the phone and pray to have an open mind, some courage and understanding, whatever comes of it. I call my sister-in-law, tell her I have the card and will be bringing it over. I will bring my wife. Put the coffee on.

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