The great thing
The kids were riding their bikes in the driveway, a long, smooth stretch of asphalt that slopes down from the street. Charlie was riding down, and Ben was heading up. Charlie was coming down fast, but they were a safe distance apart, and it would have been fine if Ben hadn't suddenly leapt off his bike and started running directly toward Charlie, laughing.
I was down at the bottom of the driveway watching. I could see Charlie's face as he rode, watched him notice his brother, frantically trying to figure out what to do as Ben headed straight into his path. I called to Charlie, I called to Ben, and I ran.
I saw his face, and I watched him decide. Next to a bank of overgrown rugosa rosebushes, Charlie ditched his bike instead of hitting Ben. The bushes broke his fall, a good thing considering the three-foot drop on the other side. Charlie, scared and scratched, was crying.
I picked him up, 50 pounds of brave sweaty boy, and held him. I told him how sorry I was that he'd been hurt, but how proud I was that he'd done it. "You saw Ben coming and you kept him safe," I said.
"I didn't want to be a bad brother," he said. "But I got hurt." He was wailing and cradling his banged elbow.
"You did," I said, "but you did the right thing. You did a great thing." He didn't quite get it when I tried to explain that getting hurt made it mean more. And it wouldn't have been right to let him know that every moment like this is a huge relief: the empathy I've worried about is starting to emerge.
So I dropped the quest for meaning and fretted over his scrapes. Nothing serious, and I will only admit to feeling entirely glad. Because it would be wrong, I know, to wish for a scar, something to point to later, a physical mark of the moment I started to think things would be okay.