“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”Helen Keller
Ritchie’s first memory was watching his identical twin brother Robbie drown in the swimming pool at their Aunt Carol’s house in Wilmington, North Carolina, when they were five years old. To this day—he’s now thirty-one years old—Ritchie can close his eyes and watch it in slow motion—he and Robbie chasing each other on an unfinished deck, Robbie ducking a dragonfly then falling into the water. Ritchie can still see his twin brother floating face-down on the surface of the water, followed by their mother’s scream piercing the Southern afternoon’s balmy stillness, then ambulances and frenetic red lights.
Ritchie also remembers Robbie inhabiting him that day, the osmosis of souls he could never articulate, a confluence of two beings, and selflessness deposited inside him like silt in an untouched brook. Ritchie knew that Robbie would forever live through him, and it imbued in Ritchie an altruism he would never question, an unspoken portal from which he could look outside of himself.
In his Appleton, Wisconsin high school, as his parents divorced—they were never able to reconcile their mutual resentments for leaving their sons untended that day while they were fixing drinks in a kitchen—Ritchie prevailed as a stellar student and finished in the Top Ten of his small senior class. But he always knew—no, Ritchie felt—that his life still coexisted with his brother and, intuitively and innately, he knew that his academic efforts and beyond, his entire life transcended his singular self.
An ebullient student, Ritchie then attended Bowdoin College in Maine and became the president of his senior class, managing a board of student advisors to their dean. He drank alcohol infrequently and moderately and dated only one woman—a plain and pretty and brainy literature major named Amy—who he married shortly after graduation. Yet Ritchie knew, and tried to explain to Amy, that he inhabited two lives and Robbie lived inside him, a source of benevolence and compassion.
After college, with a degree in business management, Ritchie accepted a well-paying position selling advertisements and working on web design for a prolific and profitable Christian dating site. The website flourished, and the founders—two opportunistic brothers from Arkansas who made specious claims at being Baptists—handed out sizable bonuses to their employees that year. And while Ritchie—their most persuasive and adept and versatile salesman—courted advertisers with his candidness and sincerity, he never asked for a raise and often deferred sales commissions to his coworkers, especially when he saw a coworker struggling to make quotas, knowing Robbie would’ve done the same.
While some of his coworkers are dubious of Ritchie’s intentions, digging for ulterior motives and believing there had to be something rooted in self-indulgence—because most people are motivated by egotistical means—Ritchie never acted from a place of self-interest or aggrandizement. In many ways, Ritchie never knew what it meant to be purely selfish. Robbie wouldn’t allow it.
But Ritchie also understands something that most people never will. At work, watching a fellow employee celebrate a success doesn’t make him bitter, indignant, or jealous; he knows that each positive experience a person feels is something they should cherish, a moment to laud. Ritchie understands that loss is visceral and permanent, and he never wants anyone to know the emptiness or fear he feels late some nights, awake and listless. While it’s easy to be cynical when conjecturing about Ritchie’s motivations, or his exuberance when helping customers and coworkers; while it’s easy to dismiss his congeniality and altruism as a pretense, it’s also impossible to understand that instead of spitefulness, he chose kindness as a means of honoring his brother and grieving his loss.
And when Ritchie knows he could make a sale, but a coworker needs the commission, he’ll step aside and send the client to them. Ritchie makes enough salary to support his wife and their two sons, and he’ll always try to make things easier for others. Ritchie knows that life isn’t fair or just, and the only way one can level this playing field is to breathe life into one another, resuscitate those who are drowning.