“Love Will Lift You,” column for Jan. 20, 2015

From the start, I sensed something special about him. I didn’t know he was blind and suffered cerebral palsy. Born premature, my brother spent his first months in an incubator. I was 4 years old, clueless about babies.

“What is that?” I said the day he finally came home.

“That’s your brother,” said my mother. “Call him Joe.”

I poked him and he grabbed hold of my finger and my heart.

“Whoa,” I said, “he’s strong!”

Little did I know. Joe would prove stronger than the sum of his infirmities, the weakness in his legs, the limits of his mind, the never-ending night of his vision. More than strong, he is fierce. I saw it clearly that day and have never doubted it.

When he was 6 months old, my mother brought him home from a checkup and told me to watch him while she fixed supper. We started playing a game I called “dogs,” rolling on the floor like pups. Then I looked up and saw my mother watching us. She was crying.

“He’s blind,” she said. “The doctor told me today.”

I looked at Joe. He was laughing. “He can’t be blind,” I said. “He smiles at my face.”

“He smiles at your voice,” she said. “He’ll never see your face.”

That was that. Joe was blind. Mama went back to cooking. I went back to playing a dog.

Joe’s fierceness of heart served him well, but it didn’t make him easy to live with. He flat-out refused help of any kind (“I can do it, Sister, get out of my way.”) But he made me do a few things: Tell him stories; sing him songs (he liked “Love Lifted Me”); and describe the way things looked.

Sunrise, for example. He’d feel it through a window warm on his face. Then he’d wake me up to tell him what it looked like. If I got it wrong, he’d say, “Nope, that’s not it. Try again.”

When he was 7, Joe spent a month in a hospital following a surgery that failed to help his legs. A nurse told my mother he fell asleep every night singing “Love Lifted Me.”

From the age of 8, he boarded at a school for the deaf and the blind, learning to read Braille and beat up deaf boys. When he was 16, the school said he’d learned enough and sent him home with a Braille typewriter and that fierceness of heart that at times forced my mother to double up on her nerve pills.

At 21, Joe moved out to live on his own, he said, “like a man,” in a low-income apartment 30 miles away. He learned to cook, clean, do his own laundry and most anything else he pleased.

Then he met the love of his life. She, too, was blind. They dated three weeks before eloping. When Joe called to tell me, he said, “Even a blind man can fall in love at first sight.”

They shared ten good years before he lost her to cancer. In painful proximity, he also lost our mother, who was his champion, and our stepfather, who was Joe’s best friend.

What is left when you lose the loves of your life?

My brother clung with an iron fist to three gifts: Faith, hope and love.

His faith grew stronger. His hope held fast. And his love for his family and the Creator who gave him life has never dimmed, despite death or disappointment. Loved ones leave, but love remains.

Some people pity my brother for all he has lost or never had. I envy him for his fierceness of heart and the riches of his soul.

The years ahead may prove to be his hardest. His legs are growing weaker, threatening to rob him of the independence he’s fought so hard to keep.

My sister (who replaced our mother as his champion) and I often wonder what will happen if Joe can’t live on his own. What would it do to him? It’s not up to us. We’ll do what we can, but it’s his life. He won’t have it any other way.

You don’t find strength to do something until it’s time to do it. Joe has found it whenever he needed it. I believe he will again.

Love will lift him. It always has. Even a blind man can see that.

Comments

  1. Sharon,

    Love lifted up this column, too. Faith, hope, and Love. You can add talent, too, for you both.

    Blessings,

    Bruce

  2. Lisa says:

    Just read this beautiful article and had a good cry at 7:15am. Crying is so therapeutic, thanks.

  3. Ed Sanderson, Sr. says:

    Thanks so much for your columns! You are a grace to me. Real love in real life is precious and powerful, and you paint it well for the mind’s eye. May God bless and prosper you, your family and all you do for the LORD and those created in His image. Life is indeed an adventure.

  4. Carol Drew says:

    Awesome article today! I too have a legally blind, very stubborn brother who does not have the word “can’t” in his vocabulary! I too admire all he has accomplished! He is an attorney now working for our State!
    Keep writing! I look forward to your columns every week!
    Thank you Sharon!!!

  5. Mary E says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I have adopted two special needs boys and can so well relate to your experience. It truly is a joy and delight to see them be able to have a wonderful and fulfilling life.

  6. Shirley G. says:

    You write so beautifully of your brother. It is clear that you are close – the words just flow right from your heart. Thank you for sharing with us. My mom and I had never really been what you would call close, until she had 2 strokes, right after she turned 89 years old. So for the next 19 months, I was with her a lot. I hate it that she was ill before we became closer, but am so glad that we finally did, before she left this world for her new home. Our local newspaper carried your story today, Sunday. God bless you for sharing.

  7. Lora Buhrman says:

    And that is your gift; to be able to put what’s in your heart so beautifully on to paper.
    This one deserves a gold star with a red heart over it. Faith, Hope, and Love . Words I try to live by also. I always look forward to reading your colunns Sharon. Thank you.

  8. Nicole Kirk says:

    Hi Sharon, My mom Melinda Marrical talked of Joey often she truly loved him. I also kinda remember Joey and what I remember most was how his independence. I would love to talk to you please email me for my #

  9. Shelley Sipe says:

    Well once again you have me in tears. “Loved ones leave, but love remains.” Yes, it can be no other way. No wonder you write so well, you’ve been painting the world for your brother. Thank you Joe for letting us see your sister the way you do.

  10. Ruth Ann says:

    The Fairmont Times quit delivering newspapers to our area over a year ago. I found your web page just before then and was so glad.
    I love reading about your brother and you have a wonderful way of writing about him and everything else that goes on in your life.
    Praying for your brother as he is going through another stage of his life. So glad to here he has a strong faith in God.
    Keep writing and I’ll keep reading 🙂

  11. Helga says:

    This is so beautiful it made me cry.

  12. j d downs says:

    made me cry, lost my companion of 57 tears last april.

  13. cynthia g says:

    Beautifully told….inspiring…

  14. shashi says:

    So inspiring story of loving brother who lives life and eyes do not become a hindrance
    to live it fully and hat’s off to dearest sister who writes his story in golden words for everybody ,inspiring them to put his or her finger between teeth ,think a bit to enjoy their life to the fullest having eyes and ears both including me .Life is really precious to live fully no matter what happens around us . THANK YOU Sharon for lifting me after I read each word two times . love

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