I am the youngest of twelve children. Growing up my siblings teased me that I was the baby of the family and I would always push back that I was not the baby but the youngest. It was my effort not to be categorized, as a baby because that meant weakness and I wanted to be just as tough as my seven brothers. Almost every Sunday afternoon, we played some sort of sport like football or softball. We always had enough kids to have 2 teams of some sort. My favorite sport was football and my favorite quarterback was my brother Jon. He was the best at leading the charge to out maneuver the other side. He taught me how to run a post pattern and how to run towards the center of the field and just look up for the ball. We would practice for hours preparing for a “game.” I have to say he taught me more than football moves on the field. He taught me about how to grab onto life and make the best out of every opportunity that we are given.
This reflection of my brother reminds me of a story found in the Gospel of Luke. The story takes place as Jesus was teaching on the Sabbath and he noticed a woman saw a bent over woman. He asked her to come near him and when she did, he healed her of the crippling spirit that had so effected her for 18 years. Jesus told her that she was “set free of her ailment.” We are never told in this story what her ailment was so it might have been anything. She may have been physically unable to stand up, which would have limited her capacity to do many ordinary things in life. She might have been bent over with emotions of anger or fear and these too can affect how she interacted with people. Whatever was her issue, Jesus had set her free! She was released from her pain immediately and could stand up to praise God!
For me, this woman and my brother Jon have something in common with each other. They both have had to overcome some sort of crippling spirit. There is that word, crippling, again. When I hear or read that word, my mind goes to my brother Jon and how he detested that word because people viewed him differently and often felt sorry for him. He did not want their pity. I wonder if the woman in this story felt the same way? What feelings did she experience at not being able to fit into a world that would required her to look people in the eyes. Like Jon, did she feel the pity of others? People are well intentioned with their sympathy but often their actions can set a person apart and label them as different. By saying different, I don’t mean unique. There are people who make a choice to look or act differently than what society deems as “normal.” My brother Jon and this woman did not have a choice in how their ailment came into their life.
The story in Luke shows how Jesus reached out to the woman in order to free her from the disabling spirit. She rejoiced that she could stand up straight. I wonder how her life changed? No longer would people feel sorry for her because now she could participate in doing simple things without having to rely on others to help her. Jesus restored her to her community. I believe that Jesus also freed my brother from polio by giving him a spirit of courage to accept that he was differently-abled than others and never allow that to define him as a person. My brother Jon would always be affected physically by polio, however, his emotional and intellectual spirit never gave in to feelings of pity or weakness. He could and would do whatever anyone else could do; he would just take a little longer to do it. As his family, we never saw Jon as any different that we were because he did everything we did. Nothing stopped him.
As the technology of leg braces became better and better, he was able to get rid of the crutches and stand tall on his legs. That strong determination and grit offered his youngest sister a glimpse of how to overcome fear and hardship and stand tall. Sometimes when I am overwhelmed with life, I can still hear my brother Jon, telling me to go out for a pass, look up and hold out your arms and grab the ball. He was confident that the ball would be waiting for me.
*The picture is my brother Jon riding his bike.