Nine days ago was my brother’s twenty-second birthday. While many others his age would be out, surrounded by friends in all sorts of social situations, Craig is much more content at home. Considerably more content. Quite honestly, bringing Craig to a crowded bar might be a little more like Chinese water torture than a party. Regardless, I would never let that happen because as his older sister of nearly exactly two years, I have always been incredibly protective of my little guy. Recognizing that his Autism is highly debilitating, I would never put him in a position that could make him uncomfortable.
Growing up I remember trying to make sense of Craig’s condition. My brother could not play with me. His speech was choppy and limited, he could not take care of himself, and he would not even look me in the eye. I could recall days of laughter and playfulness before his diagnosis, and somehow, not much later, he became a ghost. The physical figure remained, but the light inside his eyes had dissolved. Heartbroken and somewhat confused, yet still too young to understand, I immediately filled the role of bodyguard.
I like to think that I have taught Craig a great deal, but my contribution pales in comparison to the impact Craig has on all those he touches. He has a presence that lightens even the most melancholy observer. His teachings are abundant and include some of the following:
Wear whatever makes you feel comfortable. Craig walks out of the house every day in a grey t-shirt and cargo shorts—occasionally sweatpants on the days it is below freezing—and he wont have it any other way. Once he gets home, he will change back into those cargo shorts. I imagine that if I were to ask him, he would proclaim that one should not wear anything but the most comfortable clothes around.
Value routine. Every night Craig does the exact same thing, and there’s no stopping him. After a dinner of sausage, quinoa, and vegetables, Craig hits the showers, goes outside to swing—even in sub-zero tundra—and listens to music before hitting the sack. Promptly at 5:00PM, Craig is at the dinner table ready for his meal. More than just a lesson, I find this rather amusing.
Put things back where you found them. Anytime an item is moved from its resting spot, Craig returns it to the proper position. Can’t blame the guy.
Don’t be afraid to fight for what you want. When Craig wants something, you know it. In fact, you may be very far away and still know it. I think there is something so simple to this act that we can all benefit from. So many of us stifle what we want or need in fulfillment of some obligation, a personal pressure. Where really, we should fight like hell for the life of our dreams.
Do what you want no matter what others think. This lesson is rather significant to me. When I’m worried about getting my hair perfectly flipped to the side or the pimple that may have miraculously appeared on my face, I sometimes let those feelings run the show. I begin to feel insecure. However, it’s at times like these where I need Craig the most. Maybe it’s a lack of awareness, but I think it’s the opposite. Craig is there, and he is so content with who he is. If his shirt’s wrinkled or his hair is tossed unevenly, he simply does not care. He does what he wants every day, and he does not apologize for it. I admire him, and I courageously attempt to emulate.
Sit and be. Craig is the only person I know who can sit on the couch all day and be so happy. Others may move about the house, but he chooses to just hang out there hour after hour on some days. He may laugh to himself or make a noise or sing, but mostly he is so in-tune to his needs that he knows that on those days after a week of school and schedules, he just wants to be. We spend so much time running around to get from one place to another that we forget the pure, simple pleasure of stillness and breathing. Appreciating each breath. Laughing at the dual complexity and simplicity that keeps air flowing through us cycle after cycle without ceasing. Who knows if that’s really what Craig is laughing about as he sits there, but I know if I could hear the comedian inside his head, I would laugh too. So I laugh anyway.