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O Lord! Make this youth radiant, and confer Thy bounty upon this poor creature. Bestow upon him knowledge, grant him added strength at the break of every morn and guard him within the shelter of Thy protection so that he may be freed from error, may devote himself to the service of Thy Cause, may guide the wayward, lead the hapless, free the captives and awaken the heedless, that all may be blessed with Thy remembrance and praise. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, p. 37.
He could catch a fish in a tin can, we used to say. When you couldn’t find my brother Brad, just walk down past the school to where the canal rushed under the wood-planked footbridge, and you would see him baiting a hook, catching tiny fish where no one else could spot them. Once he fell into a river, mesmerized and dizzied by a school of trout spinning in the turbulent eddy below.
One day I would come to see Brad as a fisher of hearts as well. I had begged my mother to give birth to this next baby in our brood of five, and I accepted the credit, along with the less favored role of middle child, when she finally took my advice. Everyone admired this curly-headed gurgling baby, and I was left carrying the diaper bag, heading into the slump of the child-labor years of bean picking, floor scrubbing, stroller pushing, dishwashing, shopping, canning, endless diaper-folding and child-rearing that young girls inherited in those days. Caring for younger children was just one more barrier between a girl and her dreams and creative alone-time, yet my sister and I adored him along with everyone else, though we noticed his antics more than his budding spiritual qualities.
Only later did I think about the nurturing qualities he spent on his cat, Tom. He also rehabilitated a crippled baby chick at Easter, whom he called Speedy Sporty, into a champ ready to race any lizard or frog in sight–so much that one day, Speedy Sporty raced right out the door and never returned. Our yard was seldom empty, so as Brad grew a little older, he took the neighbor boy under his wing. He would find Jeff sitting on the high front steps in front of a darkened house, looking sad and lonely, and invite him over to throw a ball or play with Speedy Sporty, so he might feel that he had a special brother next door.
Everyone went crazy for Halloween in our neighborhood. We spent weeks waiting for that huge harvest moon to launch in the netting of the walnut trees on the big night, deciding how to paint our faces, looking for old clothes to wear. We would go as clowns or old men or whatever our imaginations could construe from the contents of our parents’ closet. We would take along pillow cases to fill with candy as we went around the neighborhood trick-or-treating. We loved carving jack-o-lanterns, and Brad won the carving contest one year, yet it seemed an empty pleasure when he spotted Jeff, the little boy next door, left alone with no one to even help him find a costume. As I practiced my music, I heard a noise in the attic. I crept up to see. Naturally, Brad crouched beside the neighbor boy, pulling out old costumes, taking the torn one for himself, finding just the right costume for Jeff. Brad seemed to coax the young boy to fly, just as he had helped Speedy Sporty find wings. He gave Jeff the pillow case from his own bed, and together, off they went, laughing beneath that rising harvest moon.
Jeff wasn’t the only boy who would find wings with Brad’s help. We later learned that over the years he counseled many of the friends in his high school who struggled with drinking problems or drugs or other issues. He knew well how to fish—how to pull others up out of the murky waters. He always seemed to enjoy life so much more than the rest of us that he made this process look effortless. I learned a lot about the power of helping by watching him. While some parents had to worry about who their children befriended, Brad thrived as the leader of lost souls, and it seemed his greatest joys came as moments of blissful compassion—as a fisher of hearts.
Little did I know how profound this lesson would become on fateful June day in 1977.
[Read tomorrow’s segment to learn more.]