Entry: One-offs Thursday, September 04, 2008

My brother David used to say, "This world is not built for one-offs."  He would have known, being born with no arms or legs.  His entire 42-year life was a dogged march of legless steps through narrow doorways in the gaping view of even more narrow minds.

I was five years old when David was born, the perfect age to enjoy a noisy, interactive doll.  You can believe this or not.  I never really saw him as different until a hot afternoon when I was maybe eight years old and we were playing shirtless somewhere with a full-length mirror.  From the corner of my eye, I caught a mirrored reflection of him with his right arm stub and left arm flipper reversed, and it startled me.  I gasped and reasoned, "That's why.  That's why people point and stare."

I was never big on dolls, except this squirmy one.  Who later used to lick his one partial finger and swipe my glasses.

Having David affected our entire family.  Every day of his life.  And beyond.  In many, many ways, not the least of which was that we could accept one-offs.  People that were different - well, we might or might not like them.  But we could accept them.  Our range of experiences and associates was broader, even though our opportunities were him were more limited.  I couldn't, for example, fit his wheelchair through the doors of most restaurants in Houston, but when we dressed for the midnight "Rocky Horror Picture Show" viewings, we'd share popcorn with whatever stoned patron plopped down next to us.  (Muttering, "Hey, man, great costume....")

I've noticed time and again that people up close and personal with one-offs have a different attitude than those that haven't had that experience.  They can't be too comfortable or complacent, and they are more willing to acknowledge responsibility to others.  They know - they know - how fast circumstances can change.  The car crash.  The stray germ.  The extra chromosone.  The fluke circumstance.  And yes - the baby.  One minute you've got a nursery decorated and can't stop thinking of those cute little outfits and the next minute - you've got the human life nobody expected and in the dark hours of harsh truth, nobody would have chosen.

David playing peek-a-boo with toddler niece Sarah, who is 36 years old today with two toddlers of her own.

I think experience with one-offs - perhaps more than any single experience - defines who a person is, and what a person could be. 

We high-fived as we cheered through Sarah Palin's speech last night.  Loved every minute.  I knew what she meant when she said, "To the families of special-needs children across this country, I have a message.  For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your songs and daughters."  Yes, we tried.  When Mom battled HISD to permit David and his classmates to eat lunch in the cafeteria and be allowed on the playground - she was trying.  When Judy lugged David on her hip into every store in Sharpstown mall - she was trying.  When Carl took him deer hunting - he was trying.  When Keith picked him up for innumerable holidays - he was trying.  When I pitched a fit with Southwest Airlines who wanted to refuse him entry on a plane - I was trying.  I have friends with children who - God love them - have to try and try every day after grinding day.

A no-armed, armed one-off...tread lightly....

I watched Sarah Palin's kids closely last night.  Their hesitant smiles.  Their clasped hands.  Their straight-ahead eyes.  Their neat clothes and crisp haircuts.  Their interaction with each other.  Dad handing their baby brother off to the youngest daughter.  Oh, that baby brother. 

I'd bet a buck that baby brother is going to define Sarah Palin's older children far more than will their mother's job. 

She'll be vice president for a season. 

He'll be their brother forever.


September 7, 2008   10:55 PM PDT
what a beautiful post. We are a family new to the world of special needs. I can't get over Sarah's comment during her speech. She is my governor and I couldn't be more proud.
September 6, 2008   07:06 PM PDT
The Lord led me to your blog today, and is speaking to me loudly! I just happened to have stumbled on this two days ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSRj7JqURjc
It's simply inspiring!

I'm not sure what He's trying to say, but I'm willing to bet it's something like this:
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -- Jeremiah 29:11

God bless David!
September 5, 2008   01:08 PM PDT
Love how you talk about him here and there in your blog .... feel like I know him.
September 5, 2008   06:58 AM PDT
I agree with Ellie. You should write a syndicated column. You have a gift that should be shared with the world! I know you're busy, but think about it!

I am also excited about what Sarah Palin brings to the ticket! She will make a great VP and even President one day. She and John McCain will make a great team to shake Washington up!
Wendy Laubach
September 5, 2008   06:31 AM PDT
I met a girl in gym class once in junior high. I was making some kind of insufferable tasteless joke about people missing limbs, the kind of thing only a young, protected person without any empathy, trying to sound daring, would dream of saying. Becky didn't get mad at me or anything. She calmly brought me up short by telling me her brother didn't have any arms and legs.

I spent a good bit of time in her house for years afterward and got to know David and the rest of her family. That was the first time I learned how families hold together in the face of shock. Becky's late mother has been an inspiration to me my entire life since then. I only knew David a little for a few years when we were teenagers, but my life will never be the same because of him.

I remember that David had friends with much lesser physical handicaps who had been taught that they couldn't expect to do all kinds of things. David was never taught that. He was taught to try it and see. He was endlessly ingenious and brazen. You sure wouldn't have called him "coddled." His fiercely loving family paid him the respect of expecting him to stand like a man, legs or no legs.

I didn't know until I read Becky's blog today that SW Airlines tried to keep him off a flight. That made me so angry I'm still weeping. I wouldn't have wanted to be the airline representative that had to deal with Becky that day. I'll bet he's spent some time staring into his own soul since then.

The Palins have hard times ahead of them. But they obviously know that love and acceptance in a healthy family don't depend on everyone fitting into a pigeonhole.
September 4, 2008   08:56 PM PDT
Please / Please -- Erma B reincarnated.... please write a syndicated column so that the world will get to know you... not just us fortunate ones ..... you are the best.... I was watching a tribute to Erma last night on TV and I kept thinking.... man, Becky is every bit as clever and funny.... probably even more so..... you really are amazing... xoxo
September 4, 2008   07:29 PM PDT
good blog
September 4, 2008   06:15 PM PDT
How many times can I cry in a 24 hour period?
Turtles RULE!
September 4, 2008   04:16 PM PDT
Vice President for a season - and may, perhaps, be the subject of "Hail to the Chief," at some point in her future.

More character in this lady's little finger than the bodies of the entire "loyal," opposition!

Win or lose, Sarah & family have already won - the gift of class & character!

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