This I Believe

Susanna - La Puente, California
Entered on May 29, 2007

What my mentally handicapped brother taught me.

I don’t remember why I was crying. I was about 8 years old when it happened and he was about 5 years old. He kept me company and watched me. It started out as sniffles but soon it erupted into sobbing. Soon I was crying uncontrollably. Then he started crying too.

I had to ask, “Why are you crying?”

He looked at me with a blank stare, searching, trying to extrapolate a reason from my sadness.

He shrugged and looked down, “Cuz you’re crying.”

I started laughing.

Then he started laughing.

The next time something similar happened, we didn’t say anything to each other. I was crying and upon seeing my pain, he started to cry. At that moment I felt like our hearts were connected to each other. He truly felt what I felt, though he didn’t understand it. Without exchanging any words, we cried together. This influential moment has come to define my personality.

My brother has Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic condition which causes medical and developmental problems such as heart vessel problems, learning disabilities and attention deficit and can be characterized by a distinct facial appearance and an excessively social personality. Despite all of this, my brother’s love for me has never wavered and was never conditional. Unlike him, when frustrated or angry, I did not want to speak to him or do anything for him. But any time I needed him, he never refused me. Even if he didn’t understand what I was saying, he would listen all the same. He is always forgiving.

I believe every single person would benefit from knowing someone who is disabled or handicapped, whether mentally or physically. It sounds counterintuitive; that a person with major abnormalities or flaws could teach us so much about being “normal.” In actuality, these people teach us the crucial lessons in life; we can’t take things for granted, life is full of difficulties, but we must rise to the challenge. That no matter how we look, how smart, successful, or poor we are, every person needs unconditional love and understanding.

I also believe in unconditional love. The most fundamental thing my brother has taught me is what it means to give and receive unconditional love. Ultimately, unconditional love means tolerance. Living in an era filled with globalization, internet, and more knowledge than the human race can fathom, we have become conditional in our behaviors, attitudes, and philosophies. An era that means if we get mad at our friends, we can find new ones by chatting online, where divorce rates of 50% is acceptable, where we turn our backs on others we don’t know because they are “strangers” only to realize that sometimes we don’t treat our loved ones that much better. Our lives should not be measured by how many to-do’s we cross off our list, or how many mistakes we have made in the past, but by how many people we help or take the time to learn about or understand. We have taken the thinking out of doing and tried to do without thinking

Unconditional love requires sacrifices, compromises, the deepest levels of selflessness, and the purging of hubris and power. Unconditional love means loving humankind, embracing one another as brothers and sisters….We are reactors but we are also initiators. As individuals we have control of ourselves and are not at the mercy of others’ behaviors or actions.

I believe unconditional love has the power to transform people and bring us all together. As hard as it may be to give it, we cannot live without it. I believe in the power of unconditional love.