My brother and I used to go for walks in the pine forest. We’d walk up the road outside our house, and despite the incline, we’d be keen to get up the hill. Soon the houses fell away and we’d enter the tunnel of trees that surrounded the road, leaving a dappled sea on the tarmac; and the promise of the Pine Woods. They were our woods. Our babysitter had a log cabin at the entrance, which kind of marked the woods out as our territory. After all, someone had to look after what was ours when we couldn’t be there.
As soon as we turned off the road, and onto the uphill track, the excitement would set in. The five bar gate marked the border between our world and the woods. Once we had passed through the portal, there was only one thing that mattered. We had to get to our stones.
My brother had one stone, which was most definitely his. It was a broad flat surface, sloping gently so it was easy to sit on. I wasn’t allowed on it. It was his. His anchor in the mystery of the wood. The one unchanging place in the dynamism of nature that was rooted, solid. Mushrooms may grow, snow may fall, animals may rustle in the undergrowth, but the stone was always there for him.
As soon as I was old enough to know that this was important, I had to have my own stone. I found a smaller stone a bit further on into the wood, and that was suddenly my stone. Initially the impulse, as with any younger sibling, was to ape what my older brother had. If he had a stone, so I needed a stone.
We used to sit on our stones, several yards apart. I did slightly envy him his larger stone. He’d always be able to get to his stone before I got to mine. He was always safe before I was safe.
But once I was there, it was like being on a boat in the ocean. Everything else was dangerous, but whilst I was sitting on my stone, somehow I was safe. My stone could be anything I wanted, but what was most important was that it was mine. And no-one could take it away from me.
Most of what I had was shared. Even my identity. I was my brother’s younger brother. Of course I idolised him. I tried to be like him. Tried to impress him. But lurking inside was the desire to be my own person, not defined by someone else, no matter how you loved them.
Eventually we’d be called off our stones, and on into the further mysteries of the wood. But that was okay, because the stones would be waiting when we were on our way home, waiting for us.
Then one day, my brother came and stood on my stone, before I could get there.
How could he?
Did he not realise the sacredness of the stones? Despite my reverence for the holiness of our respective stones, I could find no other retort, than to go and stand on his stone, but this didn’t seem to matter to him. I was furious. Some hitherto unbreakable rule had been rent asunder. I was powerless, because I cared, and he didn’t. There is nothing more impotent than one who cares when confronted by one who doesn’t.
I couldn’t pretend not to care. I couldn’t make him care. I could do nothing but hate him for what he did. We walked back to the house in silence. I desperately wanted to be away from him. This traitor who didn’t understand the sacredness of stones!
We got to the house and I marched into the kitchen and slammed the door in his face. Go away! I don’t want to be near you!
The bar of the door-handle hit him squarely in the teeth. His brand new front tooth, which had only emerged about a quarter of an inch, was shattered, and blood flowed. There was blood everywhere. My righteous wrath was not tempered, and I felt he deserved everything he got!
Niggling in the back of my mind was the horrible thought that I had done something unforgiveable.
Everyone seemed to be blaming me. All the attention and sympathy was with him. But didn’t they understand? He had brought this on himself. I would never have consciously wanted this to happen, but as it had been an accident, was that not some sort of poetic justice?
But underneath all of that, I realised that my love for him meant that I couldn’t rejoice. I had hurt my one best friend, and the sacredness of the stones was on a different level to the sacredness of love.