Beyond the Boys Town Tale,
Beside the Good Samaritan Story
Spiritual Reflections by Fr Roderick Salazar SVD
That is what he is saying —
this tiny tot not more than two feet tall, carrying another
boy just slightly smaller than he, as they are whisked
from the murky typhoon waters they are wading through
when asked who they were and where their parents were.
“’Di ko po alam. “Di ko po sya kapatid.
I don’t know – he’s not my brother”.
But, separated from his own family by the storm, and
trying to fend for himself, he finds it but natural to
take into his 5-or 6-year-old-arms another lost little boy
and with him seek safety.
That some grown-ups saved them seems clear.
That both got re-united with their respective families,
I can only hope.
But the scene is a God-moment to wonder at, savor,
and reflect on. I find it to be a VARIANT of two stories:
First, the origin of the logo of Boys Town.
Second, the Good Samaritan Story.
On December 17, 1917, Father Edward J. Flanagan,
a Catholic priest, founded an orphanage for boys in
Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.A. From its humble beginnings
in a rented house good for five little orphan boys, it
grew into what became known as BOYS TOWN,
also called “The City of Little Men”.
A century later, on June 9, 2017, Father Steven Boes,
President and National Executive Director of Boys Town
narrated how the organization got to adopt the phrase
identified with it: “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”.
“Back in 1918, a boy named Howard Loomis was abandoned
by his mother at Father Flanagan’s Home for Boys, which
had opened just a year earlier. Howard had polio and wore
heavy leg braces. Walking was difficult for him, especially
when he had to go up or down steps.
“Soon, several of the Home’s older boys were carrying
Howard up and down the stairs.
One day, Father Flanagan asked Reuben Granger,
one of those older boys, if carrying Howard was hard.
“Reuben replied, ‘ He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother.’ ”
But the story doesn’t end there.
“In 1943, Father Flanagan was paging through a copy of Ideal
magazine when he saw an image of an older boy carrying a
younger boy on his back. The caption read,” He ain’t heavy,
Mister, he’s my brother.”
“Immediately, the priest was reminded of a photo of Reuben
carrying Howard at a Boys Town picnic many years before.
Father Flanagan wrote to the magazine and requested permission
to use the image and the quote. The magazine agreed,
and Boys Town adopted them both to define its own brand.”
HE AIN’T HEAVY, HE’S MY BROTHER.
Not only did this phrase become connected with Boys Town,
It inspired a ballad that Bobby Scott and Bob Russell wrote.
In 1969 Kelly Gordon recorded the song, and later that year
The Hollies did the same, and still later, Neil Diamond.
“the road is long, with many a winding turn,
that leads us to who knows where? Who knows where?
But I’m strong, strong enough to carry him,
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother…”
Great as this story and this song are, our own recent story of the
little boy carrying another little boy provides a striking CONTRAST.
“’DI KO PO SYA KAPATID : He’s NOT my BROTHER.”
This is what the little boy frankly, if innocently, admits.
And yet, and yet ….
he is carrying the other boy nearly his own size.
Not his blood brother, not his family, not his friend or acquaintance.
He is too young to even philosophize that
what he is doing may be a “brotherly” act in a Christian sense,
in a human sense. No. It is Just that in his little-boy mind,
he sees someone in need. He helps.
Without much thinking or explaining to himself or to any one,
the little boy just follows his heart prompting him:
“There’s someone lost like me. There’s no one else around.
I’ll carry him… And… Oh, HE’S HEAVY,
HE’S NOT MY BROTHER … but I’ll stick with him
and together we’ll go to wherever this flood takes us….
Who is my brother or sister? Not just those of my family.
Not just he or she who shares my blood, my race, my skin.
I AM — BROTHER, SISTER, SIBLING: to ANYONE in need.
This, too, is the lesson we learn from the story that Luke
tells in Chapter 10, 25-37, about THE GOOD SAMARITAN.
A scholar of the Law of Moses asks Jesus how one might
inherit eternal life. When Jesus replies that one can do so
if one followed the command ‘You shall love the Lord your
God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your
strength, and with all your mind, and…your NEIGHBOR
as you love yourself “, the lawyer pursues his question
with “Who is my neighbor?”
The central note about this story is that it is meant to be ironic:
Those expected to be good – the priest and the Levite –
are not so — in reality. It is the expectedly BAD Samaritan
who actually turns out to be GOOD.
To the Jews, “neighbor” was not the one next in space but
one who shared the same belief in the One God.
Any one else must be avoided to the extent possible.
This injured man on the road, I do not know.
He is NOT MY NEIGHBOR. I do not have to love him
as I love myself. He is bloody. I might make myself unclean.
So, I walk on the – other side, away from the victim.
To the Samaritan, a fellow human being he sees hurt.
I do not know him. He is NOT MY NEIGHBOR, but he needs me.
I will BE NEIGHBOR to him.
The lawyer sees the point of the story, and to the question that
Jesus asks: (not in answer to WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR, but
WHO PROVED NEIGHBOR to the injured man) replies that
it was he who helped the victim. Jesus tells him to do the same.
To be or not to be, myself, A NEIGHBOR to anyone
is the question that not just Shakespeare’s Hamlet must ask,
but I myself must raise, and make real, and live, with the
answer TO BE.
‘DI KO SYA KAPATID. HE IS NOT MY BROTHER OR SISTER.
BUT I CARRY HIM OR HER, THOUGH THE LOAD IS HEAVY.
And somehow I know that He who made me in the time of my life
will help me through my weakness and my sins to help others so
I reach that Home where children, little or grown-up, are meant,
beyond earth storms and flood waters,
to live with Him in forever joy.