There is so much to say to you all, you fierce soldiers of breakthrough. You grow up in the same house as one they call “special,” and that carries more weight than we understand. It means that your parents’ eyes look past you. That we take it for granted that you are whole even when you are not. It means that you give and give and give. Every big sister shares with her siblings, but most of them don’t give away their entire portion. You do it. Often.
You watched your brother grow bigger but not older. We had that talk, introducing you to that mysterious word, “autism,” but you already knew something was wrong. When did you figure it out? Was it when you saw other boys trying to play with him? Or when he threw himself on the floor and screamed in the lobby of the bank? I hope it was something like that, and not something we, your parents, did. Because I’m sure you saw the change in us, too. We traded in our laughter for dark clouds and chronic busyness—not just from the doctors’ appointments, but from the other appointments, too. The ones that took our joy and concentration even when we sat next to you on the sofa.
Since those days of shaking, you have forgiven much. The family’s attention has been fixed on your brother. He absorbs so many resources: concern, affection and especially time. It must hurt sometimes to see so much of your inheritance spent on him. After all, there is only so much attention to go around. You’ve had to settle for out-loud readings in the living room, and the occasional daddy date at the movies. But you treat those consolation prizes like championship trophies.
The way you act, the dollar theater might as well be Disney Land.
You’re not perfect, I know. You struggle with all of this, even though you hide it. If there is one thing I fear, it is that you bury it too well. Many in your situation grow up to resent their childhood and their parents for not seeing them. And while I wish there was some way to ensure that this won’t happen, I can at least tell you this:
We do see you. We see how you buckle your brother’s seat belt on the way to school. We see you tickle him and chase him and laugh with him. We watch you lead him by the hand through the noisy crowds of kids and grown ups. When he pulls away from you, you call him back with care and patience in your voice. You read to him, you cuddle him, and every day, you teach him.
You teach us, too.
While we struggle to understand and accept your brother’s condition, you prove again and again that love is infinitely richer than tolerance. For unlike tolerance, love chooses to engage, even when there might be no positive response. Love enters into the uncomfortable, the mysterious, messy places, and says “I love you. Even here.”
This is what you do so well. You teach the people around you how to love their brothers. We see that. Our friends see that. God sees that. And all of our hearts are bursting with pride.
Months after I wrote this, my 11 year old daughter Emily penned this essay about her brother. It was for a school assignment, but I published it as a guest post, because, well, it proves everything I have said here. These are amazing kids. -jh