Cain, Abel, and Everybody Else

Everybody knows the Cain and Abel story. Good son, bad son, jealousy, murder, exile. Then there’s Jacob and Esau.Trickery, betrayal, more exile, guilt, reconciliation. Mix up genders and there’s Tamar, Amnon, and Absalom.Innocence, rape, revenge, exile yet again, rebellion. All of it meaning there’s a motherload of complexity when siblings disagree and rarely do siblings disagree with more passion than when the parents are in extremis. That’s a fact, Jack. And I’m here to say Amen, brother, Amen.

There are two parts of this, I think. One is that individuals bring their own manners of coping with trouble to the table and one man’s rosy dawn is another’s night of the dead. The optimists and the realists, the half glass full crowd and the half glass empty crowd each get to bang their spoons against their plates. Which is where it ought to end because we’re all tolerant, aren’t we? Of opposing views in 2012?

But then heads bang against the second part: adolescent roles are revived quantum style when Mommy and Daddy are fading away, abandoning the field, leaving the troops to their own devices. Where childhood’s roles resurrect in adult bodies, no one’s safe.

As I’ve been pondering this awhile now, without coming up to any useful conclusions, I thought I’d go to an expert. That’d be Susan Morse, author of The Habit, a humane, humorous memoir of coping with her very unique and elderly mother’s battle with cancer.

Here’s what she said:

“I really can’t comment. In fact I have no idea what you are getting at, and honestly I resent the implication that my siblings and I have any trouble getting along whatsoever. My siblings understand perfectly that I was sent from heaven. I am the one with boots on the ground, the Good Daughter Who Takes Care of the Aging Parent, and they know their job, which is to do exactly what I tell them. If they behave themselves (and that’s a Big If) they are allowed to occasionally offer advice, and then duck when I lunge around ready to bite their heads off for interfering. We all have our roles in a family. We just have to figure them out.

“So I feel for you and your problems with your adult siblings, Mary, but they have nothing to do with us. By the way has my sister been talking to you? Oh, man, she is asking for it; that’s it, I’m calling her…..”

Ah well. As Tolstoy said: All happy families are alike. Not sure about those unhappy families. Neither Susan nor I know anything about them.

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