It was Monday morning. Mom had just left for an appointment at the clinic, and she wanted me to watch over my younger brother. He slept in for a while, and the first thing he did when he got up was go to the bathroom. Several minutes passed and I started wondering if he needed help in there. I opened the door, and found him giggling pretty shamelessly at the mess he’s made. I took a moment to get over myself and handed him some wipes so he could clean up. Then, he walked over to the sink, slathered his hands in soap and started washing. I don’t want him to be defined by his condition, but I’ll just go ahead and say he has autism.
Later that day, the two of us went out for a walk to the park. I started thinking about the way I have viewed helping my brother out with these things. I’ll be honest – even though it’s always seemed like something a nice person would do, I wasn’t thrilled to do it. I was still identifying to who I was as a kid in this regard. A pretty typical middle child, I felt like these responsibilities just got dumped onto me because I was another person in the house. I think that to a great extent, I had always looked at this as kind of a chore. This time, something was different.

Having recently received the advice from a coach to see these responsibilities as an act of service, I was inspired to see how I could change my perspective to enjoy the situation a little bit more. We arrived at the park. I was holding his hand, and sat him down at a bench. We stayed there for a moment; I just wanted a moment to soak in whatever he was doing. He was smiling, looking around and enjoying the scenery. Then an idea hit me that hadn’t fully clicked in my head before:

This is my son, too.

Sure, I’m not financially responsible for him and I didn’t give birth to him, but it’s always been my duty to look after him. Well, not always. The past five years I’ve been away at college; I had an excuse to not be around for him.

I realized now that I’ve come back what type of person I’ve been to my younger brother, and to my family as a whole. I was acting like a brat that just wants to get away from home and live the cookie-cutter life that people in their 20’s are supposed to have: an apartment out in the city, a cool job that can pay for it, grad school, and a fat group of friends to party with. I was being the type of person that would rather have his brother hang out with a paid care-taker than do the job himself.

I was missing the point: that this is not a chore, but rather a duty that I can now see as something sacred. He’s my son, too – I don’t HAVE to look out for him, I GET to look out for him. Being with him at the park, my eyes welled up as I saw a great lesson come out of this ordinary day. It’s not a brand new lesson. It’s actually kind of cliché, but here it is:

If you find yourself wishing life was more exciting, look around you to put things into perspective. Find a way to serve other people.

Sure, I want to be the sort of person that could move out of his parents’ place right away with a steady job doing what I love. That’s not my current reality. When it comes to picking a career I think I (and a lot of people, really) would say that I want to “help people and make a difference.” I think I just wanted to skip the part where I would actually become someone that helps out in every aspect of my life, whether or not I receive compensation for it. When I see my brother I can tell that he’s living a pretty confined reality: he’s almost completely unable to express himself through language and since he can’t look out for himself, he mostly has to stay at home. How great is it that I get to bring him out of that? I thought this little shift in mindset wouldn’t amount to much until I tried it out and saw for myself. It might not always be the easiest or most pleasant thing to do at the time, but we really do feel most fulfilled once we’ve done something for someone else.

Thanks for reading!

Rolando