Three Peas in a Pod

By michelle, 13 December, 2023
Three Peas in a Pod

From my Chasing Dragons | Hiding in Caves Substack.


Once upon a time, there was a little boy. His name was Firstborn. He was the sun and moon and stars to his parents. There had never been another child to ever rival this one. Beyond unique, he was truly, as his name suggests, a firstborn, in every way a firstborn might be understood. He not only received complete adoration from his mother and father but true admiration as well. They had never seen a child in the world grow up and learn and adapt and change and delight like him before. They had also never navigated the terrible twos, horrible threes, and fierce fours before either. It was a learning curve for everyone.

After a while, a brother was born.  Youngest was a delight to his parents and his older brother. There were now TWO where once there was an “Only”.  And the brothers were the world to each other. Finally, a playmate for Firstborn to share adventures and confide stories, and prank Mother and Father! Creativity abounded.  Love exploded.  But something else as well.

Comparison visited one day, an uninvited guest.  Truthfully, if one were to ask Comparison, they would say they were always in the room.  Where two or more were gathered, Comparison was in the midst.  The parents were visited frequently by Comparison but by now, mostly ignored.  When Firstborn arrived, Comparison didn’t have much to say.  Perhaps “mini-me” was the closest comment they could make, and that was either a compliment, playful jest, or passive-aggressive insult, depending upon the day.

But when Youngest was born, Comparison finally had a true reason to belong.  So similar were the brothers that the parents immediately consulted Comparison to determine who was who.  As they grew, Comparison made sure to remind everyone which brother crawled first, who walked first, which one spoke first, or who smiled more.  Comparison also helped the brothers understand the difference between apples and oranges, a grape and an olive. Soon the brothers grew to love the sky.  Comparison pointed out the different constellations.  And how to love and appreciate the changing seasons and their surroundings.  

Firstborn and Youngest also grew to love Creator just as much as their parents did, mostly because of the stories. Their parents regularly told stories that felt so real they were like distant memories.  Memories of walks in gardens and conversations with Creator held in the cool of the day.  Of an abundance of fruit and vegetables available effortlessly.  Of the majestic gentleness of animals, gathered together peacefully grazing under the brilliance of the night sky.  They learned the words “very good” and how the words weren't so much describing the things themselves but how everything connected with and related to each other was indeed “very good”.  The brothers longed for “very good”.

Just as youth are often compelled, Firstborn and Youngest learned how to try their parents’ patience.  They learned to ask “What is this?” and “How does that work?” from dusk to dawn.  They also learned they had a dangerous curiosity.  Particularly when they asked “Were things still ‘very good’?” and “Why not?” when their parents' stories of the beautiful garden drifted into an awkward silence.  It was always at this moment that Comparison hoped to be brought into the conversation, but they never were.  In fact, Comparison was oddly always made invisible during these talks.  Comparison knew it was because they were blamed for simply highlighting the obvious, but somehow everyone conveniently forgot that was because that was when Shame arrived.  Shame made certain to quickly wipe away the tears that inevitably fell from one or both of the parents’ eyes at the story’s retelling so no one would notice.  

As the boys grew older, Comparison grew right along with them.  They were like peas in a pod.  Firstborn, Youngest, and Comparison.  Firstborn and Youngest would do something and Comparison would judge.  Who threw the rock farthest?  Who ran the fastest?  Who belched the loudest?  Mostly it was amusing and fun.  But one day it wasn’t.

Firstborn couldn’t be sure, but he felt his parents' admiration leaving him, ever-so-slightly.  Where Firstborn followed Father in taking care of the soil and the crops, Youngest grew closer to Mother, nurturing and caring for the animals.  And somehow working with the animals seemed to garner Youngest more notice, especially around the family’s evening meal.  A calf nudging or a sheep following Youngest certainly seemed a more charming story than Firstborn’s retelling of his latest carrot growing in the dirt or a cluster of grapes glistening in the dew.  Unbeknownst to the brothers, two uninvited guests arrived that evening.  Envy perched on a broken log just outside the house, quietly listening to the family discussion.  Peeking out from the shadows, Jealousy was captivated by the dinner conversation as well.

It was a special morning.  Father called it the Day of Rest.  Mother always smiled and called it “My Relaxation”.  But for Firstborn and Youngest, it was the Day of Celebration.  Sure, it was also about rest and relaxation (after all they had worked very hard all week).  But this was the day they celebrated the uniqueness of who they were, what they did, and how they thrived in the world (that, unlike the garden of their parents’ stories, often was not kind to them).  And mostly, it was the day where they thanked Creator, remembering that nothing of who they were, what they did, or how they thrived was able to make soil, create rain, produce sunshine, or provide air.  And yet all were regularly and plentifully available.  The day reminded them of “very good”.

Normally Youngest followed Firstborn’s example and Firstborn, as the eldest, was eager to provide instruction - “This is the way you do it”.  After all, that is what worked for rock throwing, hill climbing and even belching.  But today was different.  Emboldened by the previous evening’s dinner conversation, Youngest was eager to lead in presenting his gift to Creator - the calf that had become his friend.  Surely if he loved the calf a lot, Creator would as well.  It would be the perfect gift.  Firstborn began to feel uncomfortable.  There was no similar emotional attachment to the carrots and grapes in his basket nor for the radishes, cucumbers, or lettuce.  Yes, they were delightful to the eye and succulent to the taste, but there wasn’t quite the same connection.  Comparison whispered in Firstborn’s ear,  “Not quite the same “very good”, is it?”  

It was an innocent enough question.  Nothing at all dishonest.  In fact, it was its very truthfulness that was so damaging.  Because in that moment, Envy and Jealousy crept closer to see if Firstborn might invite them into the conversation.  

To Firstborn’s absolute surprise, Creator spoke.  Creator had only ever spoken to Mother and Father and that was referenced only in their stories.  Firstborn stood tall - Creator was going to admire him first and he would then get to show Youngest how it was done.  But to Firstborn’s horror, that is not what happened.  Instead, Creator admired Youngest’s gift.  It was “very good”.  And to Firstborn, Creator confirmed what Comparison said - Firstborn’s gift was not the same.  Firstborn didn’t listen to what Creator said next.  Something about the need to be careful because strangers were waiting to harm him if he didn’t do what was right.  And then that was it.  No “atta boy”, not even an acknowledgment that Youngest only did so well because Firstborn had shown him how.  Firstborn and Comparison looked at Youngest.  And for the first time, where admiration used to grow between them, Envy, murmuring something, caught Firstborn’s eye.  Firstborn leaned towards Envy to listen.  “You should have been given a calf to raise.  A carrot or cluster of grapes are never going to get Creator’s attention.  Ever.”  And Jealousy, realizing its chance, captured Firstborn’s other ear and whispered, “Creator loves Youngest more than you.”

The Day of Rest ended but it was not very restful for Firstborn or Comparison.  No longer was Firstborn focused on Creator, which was the primary purpose for the day.  Instead, Firstborn’s focus was on Youngest.  Firstborn dragged Comparison around and demanded to be shown the ways Youngest was weaker than him, or slower than him, or every way possible he could be “less” than him.  The more Comparison showed him, oddly the quieter Envy became.  But Jealousy grew louder, yelling “It doesn't matter!  Creator will ALWAYS love Youngest more than you!”

Now the “peas in the pod” were Firstborn, Comparison, Envy, and Jealousy.  Youngest was no longer consulted.  Youngest didn’t understand what had happened to sour the mood. So Youngest thought meeting Firstborn in the fields to help him gather carrots and grapes would help.  Perhaps Firstborn just needed help to feel better.  Jealousy spotted Youngest across the field walking toward Firstborn.  Quickly he rushed to Firstborn’s side like a protector, whispering in warning tones, “Youngest is coming over here.  Probably to gloat.  Perhaps he’s even convinced Mother and Father that they shouldn’t love you.”  Envy planted itself between the brothers so that all Firstborn could see was a caricature of Youngest.  It was as if Envy was showing crowns passing from Firstborn to Youngest.  Crowns with titles like “first”, “best”, and “most”.  Comparison tried to interrupt to say those crowns didn’t exist, but Envy pushed Comparison aside with a rude, “Thank you but your work here is already done.”

The more Youngest tried to help, the more Envy interfered.  It was a torment to Firstborn.  Isolated away from Mother and Father and ignoring the truth of Comparison, Firstborn looked to Jealousy for help.  Jealousy smiled and rose to their fullest height.  Looking down on Firstborn, with all the authority of heaven and hell, Jealousy calmly instructed, “Youngest needs to leave.”  

Firstborn turned to Youngest.  Youngest reached out to embrace him, but Firstborn pushed his arms aside.  Youngest laughed.  Surely this was another game of wrestling match.  Youngest welcomed the chance to play with his brother again.  But the wrestling this time was different.  There was anger in the movement.  Youngest had never experienced that from his brother before. And in hesitating, he didn’t see his brother gather all of his strength.  He didn’t prepare for the power that surged towards him and pushed him away.  And in losing his balance, Youngest didn’t see the rock until his head fell upon it too late.  It was a momentary glance and then darkness. Youngest never woke up.  Blood poured from the gash in his head, over the offending rock, and into the dark, rich earth - newly tilled in preparation for the seeds in Firstborn’s satchel.

Comparison stood next to Firstborn looking around.  Envy and Jealousy had disappeared during the fight and seemed long gone.  All Comparison could do was show the difference between a living Firstborn and a sleeping Youngest.  Something wasn’t right.  Surely Firstborn notices? Perhaps Creator could fix Youngest?  Couldn’t we take Youngest back to Creator to fix?  But before Comparison could even suggest these ideas to Firstborn, Firstborn was being pulled away from the field by Shame.  Shame had enveloped Firstborn’s sobbing body with a dark cloak and sweetly cooed, “There, there.  Don’t even think about that.  It really was nothing to do with you.  If it wasn’t for Youngest, you’d have never listened to Jealousy and tried to make him leave.  Really, Youngest did this to himself.  You must pretend nothing has happened because, of course, if you do not, they will know the truth and see you for the “truly bad” that you are and reject you.”

And sadly, Firstborn believed Shame, hoping nobody would notice his brother was missing.  And if they did, it really wouldn’t matter.  Shame had offered Firstborn the perfect response . . . “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The End.

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[This story is inspired by Brene Brown’s ATLAS OF THE HEART.  The following definitions are based on her work.]

Comparison is the crush of conformity on one side and competition from the other - it's trying to simultaneously fit in and stand out.  (It is not a choice but hard-wired in us.)

Envy occurs when we want something another person has.

Jealousy is when we fear losing a relationship or a valued part of a relationship that we already have.

Shame is an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

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