I believe in my brother Austin. Every weekday morning begins with him being woken my our tired mother, who helps prepare him for the arrival of his school bus. This is done with a combination of whining and screaming on his part, and a great deal of patience, coercion, and authoritative power on her part. Each weekend morning consists of Austin waking up at 8 AM and sneaking out to get the newspaper before my father, so that he can look at the glossy pages of advertisements before my father gets ahold of the news pages. Then he makes himself chicken nuggets with a quarter of a bottle of ketchup and settles in for a few solid hours of cartoons. This seven day’s worth of mornings is a typical week for a six year old. Austin is twenty.
I believe that Austin has meant a world of challenges all unique to having a mentally retarded brother. He has prevented vacations, dining at restaurants, peaceful family outings, and the stares of the public community when he wears his Power Rangers costume to the mall, or rude remarks when he shouts in a restaurant. During a few years of particularly aggressive behavior, his retardation caused fits of rage so severe that he once dragged my mother through the house by her hair, with her begging him to stop, and ended with him tearing the chunk of hair bloodily out of her head. He once chased me with a bat, and repeatedly hit, kicked, or punched me before one of my parents stepped in to remove me from the dangerous situation.
I also believe, that in spite of all of this, in spite the enormously terrible events that have happened as a result of his disability, in spite of the heartache and bitter disappointment that being his sister has brought, I believe that there is no one I would rather have as a brother. Austin is also the person who offers me his well-loved and battered Simba plush and baby blanket every time I am sick, or complemented me by telling me that I looked like Belle, my favorite Disney Princess, in my yellow prom dress. He is the person who yelled and cheered for me at my high school graduation and gymnastics meets so loudly that I could hear him above the entire crowd.
At his best, Austin is the type of person I wish the human race was composed of-someone who opens doors for the elderly, because according to him, “they are old, not new.” He is the type of individual who tears up at the thought of people who cannot afford a Thanksgiving feast, and proceeds to take everything from our cupboard for the canned food drive. At his worst, he represents what we can all be at times: selfish, rude, inconsiderate, and annoying.
I believe that his eccentricities have molded me into a better, more empathetic person. I believe that, were it not for the boy the the most beautiful mind I know, I may have chosen not to have stopped to help the young disabled woman struggling to get up onto the sidewalk during a torrential rainstorm, even though it meant soaking my own shoes in the ankle deep puddle and being late for a class in the process.
I believe that my brother has taught me to appreciate each person for what they are, and to love them despite their shortcomings, because even if we have fully functioning brains, we can all treat each other badly at times. I believe that my brother has taught me to act with compassion, that the man who cannot tie his shoes deserves as much respect and dignity as the man who can propose the theory of relativity. I believe in the person who taught me that unbridled joy and zeal can be found in life’s simplest pleasures, and that we all deserve to feel that joy as a basic right, from the first breath we take. I believe is is my duty to ensure that all humans may maintain this right, no matter their race, sexuality, mental capacity, religious beliefs, or personal credos.
I believe that I will pass on my gifts of compassion, service, and understanding from the boy who wears halloween socks in April and has the biggest heart I know. I believe I will pass these lessons on to my children, and them to theirs. Austin has changed the world.
This I believe.
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