I have a developmentally disabled brother. His name is John, and he is two years my junior. My mother had rubella when she was pregnant with him. I helped with his care until I was 27. When we were kids in Belgium, the system there was amazing; and John had a great school to go to, and was cared for by professional people with specific training and expertise in how to deal with him. John is now 37 years old; but his brain is eternally two years old. Two, deaf, and because of medication, or frustration, or whatever other reason, he is also prone to the occasional bout of violent behaviour. It was not easy taking care of him—and when we moved back to the US, the system here is not even remotely as welcoming to a developmentally disabled adult, and so John stayed home. My mother, as usual, checked out and skipped off to do her own thing, and I spent most of my twenties filling in. John and I would lock horns just to get him dressed sometimes, and mealtime often involved plates being broken and ketchup on the ceiling (yes, every home we’ve ever lived in was left with the permanent mark of Heinz 57).
You tend to develop a sense of humour that is more… strange than others when you grow up in a household like ours. I won’t lie; we had a very hard childhood. Our parents were not very happily married, always fighting, my father had trouble controlling his temper, and my mother had/has an array of issues that makes her, without sugar-coating it; not a very nice person. Add John, flying plates and holes in the sheetrock from his tantrums, and it spells chaos. We never were allowed to value or treasure anything we owned as children; John often ruined things, tore them up, broke them, and we were always told: “oh, Jesus… it’s just stuff,” or “oh, just give it to him…”
But what I think affected me most was how people reacted to my brother. Today, he’s a big guy, swarthy, and even as a kid, he is very striking and has a strong presence. He also has no concept of the noises that come out of his mouth—he was born deaf, and his mental retardation hindered any efforts to make him understand verbal communication. His noises are raw and primal… they express his feelings like no other vocalization from a person I’ve ever heard. When he’s frustrated or angry, his voice will leave you in no doubt of it; when he is sorrowful, his cry is as plaintive as anything can be, and it will tear out your heart. There is no imbedded social buffer in his expressions as we all have… When he is happy, his laugh is like that of a little child, exuberant and joyful. And when he’s calm, he sometimes makes just a simple noise of calm, a sort of hum through his nose. I imagine if all of humanity lost their ability to make or hear speech, we’d all sound like that.
Taking him anywhere has always been an exercise in control for me. Because, at the risk of being offensive; people are jerks. They see him running in his unique way and they laugh. They hear his noises and they laugh and call him names right in front of us. I’ve had to spend my whole childhood biting back the urge to punch people in the head for mocking someone who has no idea that he’s a joke to them; who in truth, has no idea people are laughing at him. He is not hurt by it, but it bothers me to no end. For some reason, the idea of someone being unable to defend themselves against that sort of thing being subjected to it just fills my stomach with icy/flaming ire. It’s such a cowardly thing… to mock those who are ignorant of it, unprepared for it. It makes me think of bullies or cowards. Right now, there are burning tears in my eyes as I type this because it still just makes me so mad.
I am a brat, yes. I pick on people constantly. But I do not mock anyone who can’t give it right back to me. But I would NEVER intentionally attack someone, mock them to the point of humiliation or feign sincerity with a look of revulsion or disgust on my face simply for my own amusement. It sickens me that there are people like that in this world. I cannot abide mean people. At all. The kind of mean people that intentionally find ways to make themselves superior to others, the kind of mean people who belittle the efforts of others, who kick down people who are kind, who are gentle, who are well-meaning, and who have no idea they are in some way, attracting ridicule. I cannot stomach those who disparage the work of those who are at least trying.
This prejudice I have for that kind of people bleeds into every aspect of my life. Work or play… I cannot abide by deliberate meanness to others. I can joke privately, and tease and even be brash, but I would never stand in someone’s face and make fun of them in a malicious way, no matter how ridiculous they can be—or passive-aggressively make fun of someone in front of them. It’s unseemly, and really, inhuman. We are not amoebas—we have the ability to reason and the capacity for understanding—great gifts that are far too often ignored and sullied by some personal desire to make them feel better or above others.
Empathy is a gift not all of us have. We are all children of our experience, and those of us who’ve lived sheltered lives without adversity, as opoosed to those who are experienced with things like mental retardation, with physical and sexual child abuse, with domestic abuse, with suicide, with deliberate human cruelty and unkindness might not have any basis of understanding. Sheltered people often have a lot of delusions about the world, and self-absorbed ideas that they are somehow above these things, but they are not. Everyone is one step away from the adversity--whether they care to know it or not. Nobody is insulated from life, it happens. I’m going to be frank, I have experienced all of the above—and I could have gone either way in life, but instead of turning to the darkness some people turn to with that sort of childhood, I chose to be understanding as a human being, to be empathic, and kind, and as generous as I can be to people who deserve it (and sometimes those who don’t—to my detriment).
I rate kindness above anything else. Because there’s nothing more important in life than to treat people with dignity; not material items, not one’s beliefs, not one’s knowledge or skills on a particular subject or work. There is no justification for people being jerks to other people just to build their sorry egos. I will call people out on it, and invoke all manner of fights and discord about it without a second thought because I believe this so strongly. I make no apologies for pointing out the innate stupidity in the way people behave towards others and put themselves above others. I don’t care if they are family or not. There is no place for that sort of behaviour. Pointing it out often brings a lot of people to their defenses, because unfortunately many of us are guilty of it. But this post is not about anyone in particular… it’s about the state of humanity as I see it today as I think about my brother.
I’ve had my say.
Serious post over. Sorry. :(
[UPDATE DUE TO TROLLING] As a fresh reminder to the small people who get their self-worth by trolling; this blog is my little autocracy and I have no problem with deletions... Free speech here is relative. If you're planning to go through the comment process simply to prove that yes, you are an ass-monkey like the ones I described in the above post, I recommend you don't bother--I will delete it quickly and soundly and think nothing further of it--likely faster than it will take for other blog visitors to see it. Don't waste your time. Perhaps you should instead try and find some meaning in your life, besides being an ass-monkey. Have a lovely weekend. HC