Thursday, March 23, 2006

Just BE

Thanks so much to Trixie of Trixie in Transit. After my tantrum posted last night, she kindly has reminded me to take some time to just BE.

So well I recognize the difference between BEING and DOING. Our value comes not from what we DO, but simply from BEING. We have value just because we are here. It's that easy.

It's a hard lesson that was refined for me after spending my life with a mentally handicapped brother. Bob was 16 months older than me and died Nov. 17, 1997. I wrote this essay, which was published on his birthday just a few weeks later, Dec. 12, 1997. When I need to remember the value of BEING, I pull it out again to reread. I hope it helps others as much as it helps me.

He loved Paul Harvey, Lawrence Welk, public television and listening to
country gospel records.

He filled his days listening to the police scanner for the town gossip,
figuring out how things work and playing with his beagle, Tippy.

Today is his birthday; my brother would have been 44 years old.

Bob never worked; his job in life simply was to be who he was, and he did
it well. These days the politically correct term is "special needs;" in our
childhood, less kind terms were applied to his condition. It's best that
those words stay in the past.

We were blessed to have grown up in a small Oklahoma town. Bob had the
chance to be at home there, which wouldn't have been possible in a larger
city. People knew Bob, and were patient with him. They listened to him even
when it was hard to understand him. And that's all that really mattered
to him, because he liked to talk.

But the blessing also had another side. Education and training opportunities for
Bob and his peers were severely limited in our hometown in the 1960s. Bob attended special school until he was 12; from that age on, he was at home, under our
mother's care. There was no need for assisted living, or group homes, or
institutionalization in our family. We were lucky that it was possible for
Bob and Mom to live together and take care of each other.

He was fascinated with power tools and electricity, and his week was not
complete without several hours of how-to programs on public television.
Employees in all the hardware stores in town knew Bob and his latest

He finished few, but finishing was never the point to any of Bob's
projects. One work he did complete has a permanent home in my kitchen - a
simple wooden stepstool he made so I could reach my cabinets. I use it
every day.

Yes, Bob's main job was simply to be who he was. He needed no day planner;
scheduling wasn't important. There was no rat race, no corporate ladder
that needed climbing. He lived on God's timetable.

His needs were simple - eating a grilled cheese sandwich, visiting with
his bingo buddies, studying the displays at the hardware store, playing
the piano by ear.

But he had goals, and worked toward those until he achieved them. Most of
them were goals he had for helping someone else, including me. I learned
how to rewire lamps by watching him.

Last year, his big goal was to help me buy a dishwasher for the old house I had
recently bought. Last Thanksgiving, he handed me an envelope filled with
money; he had saved his $2 a week allowance - the same $2 a week we got as
an allowance when we were children - until he could afford my
Christmas present, the dishwasher.

He wanted to make sure I bought it before Christmas. I did, but it remains
in the carton, still uninstalled, because I haven't made the time in my
over-scheduled life to get it put in. Be assured, it will be in place
before this Christmas. I wish he could be here to see it work.

I last saw him the day after Halloween, and remembered a particular autumn
in our childhood 35 years ago.

We had a ritual of raking the leaves together, and the sounds and smells
are forever imprinted in my memory. There's a photograph of him next to
a pile of leaves, wearing a scarf and beret for his part as a Frenchman
in a school play.

That same fall, our grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
Even though the grownups were all busy, our grandpa made the time to
play his banjo for us, and then gave us a pumpkin from his garden to make
a jack-o'lantern.

Days before Halloween we were playing tag and telling ghost
stories. Bob picked up the pumpkin as he chased me, making up a tale of
some headless monster. About the third time around the living room, he
tripped, and our cherished pumpkin went flying, landing in a shattered mess
on the floor. It was like losing a member of the family.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Pumpkin!" Bob exclaimed.

That bittersweet phrase has been repeated nearly every fall since.

Despite that sad Halloween episode, many autumnal events brought joy to
Bob's life: pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, followed by
our ritual of decorating the Christmas tree on his birthday. He
loved flowers, too, and managed to grow amaryllises so he nearly always had
a bloom open on his birthday.

Christmas was the big day of the year for him, because that was when he
could give his presents. It was impossible for him to keep a secret, though,
so we always knew what was under the tree before we unwrapped our packages.

Bob didn't understand much about religion or theology, but he knew the
Christmas story, and he believed in angels and heaven. Before it became
physically difficult for him to attend, he enjoyed going to church,
especially to hear the music and to visit with his friends.

He prayed for people instinctively. I think that's why he loved gospel
music so much; the messages in the music were already rooted in who he was.

Bob's not here to celebrate his birthday today; he died, peacefully,
in his sleep a couple of weeks ago. Mom tried to wake him so he wouldn't
miss hearing Paul Harvey on the radio, but the angels had already visited
in the night, and he already knew "the rest of the story."

It seemed right, somehow, that many of his bingo buddies heard the news
on the police scanner.

Happy birthday, Bob. I'm putting up my little tree after work tonight, and
I'll put a bow on the dishwasher for you. Sissy misses you.


FrenziedFeline said...

Ya' know, ever since I first read that on your blog a year or so ago, I think of your brother every time I hear Paul Harvey. :)

Trixie said...

Aww thanks Frenzied. That makes me feel so good.

Genevieve said...

What a nice tribute to your brother. I enjoyed reading it.

Trixie said...

Ok, you made me cry! Not fair at all. You are a wonderful writer and this speaks volumes to me about your love for a unique man. I will keep this in mind when I feel over-programmed.