But perhaps the one who has taught me the most is someone who doesn't have a PhD and, as a matter of fact, hasn't even graduated from high school.
My brother, Michael, is indeed a very special person.
At 30 years of age, he possesses the innocence of a child and the wisdom of someone far beyond his years. Despite my reading and study of theology, Michael seems to have a much clearer understanding about the mystery of life and suffering. The fact that he cannot read hasn't hindered his ability to know these deep, profound truths.
A broad smile and joyful laughter frequently prevent many from realizing that Michael carries a very heavy cross. Though, as I said, you would never know it. Michael isn't one to feel sorry for himself, though someone could say he might be fully justified if he did.
You see, Michael has a long list of medical troubles, a list that grew significantly in just the past five years or so. A lover of just about any and every kind of food, Michael is now restricted to a clear liquid diet and has a feeding tube. Imagine if all you could eat is chicken broth, jello, and popsicles. But, on top of that, I can't count the number of times he's been admitted to the hospital the past few years, sometimes for very critical medical conditions.
And yet...there is a silence from him. A silent acceptance, day in and day out. It's a silence that speaks louder to me than any homily, textbook, or lecture.
Let me just share one recent experience. On Wednesday of this week, Michael went into the radiology department at the local hospital to have his feeding tube replaced, which is a routine procedure. When he arrived home, he began having pretty severe stomach pain and couldn't keep any food down. Following an afternoon of back-and-forth calls with the hospital and a medicinal attempt to fix the problem, he was eventually put on an ambulance and sent to the ER. Turns out part of the feeding tube became misplaced and was blocking anything from exiting his stomach. Yes, that would create severe stomach pain.
My reaction to the situation? On the one hand was sorrow and regret. Michael suffers from enough physical troubles. Why should there be one more, especially something that was unnecessary? The chances of having complications from a feeding tube replacement are so rare...why does it have to be our Michael who is the one with a complication...as if he needs something else to deal with.
On the other hand was resentful judgment and anger. How, exactly, was the feeding tube misplaced? Did the doctors do a poor job? Were they a little careless in doing a routine procedure? How could they mess something like that up?
But Michael...Michael had a different reaction. In a conversation with my aunt where he reflected upon his situation, he quite simply said, "Sometimes these things happen."
No questioning, no complaining, no resentment toward the doctors, no envying the multitude of other people who have no where near his degree of medical issues. Just: "Sometimes these things happen."
It makes me really reflect myself. Do I say the same thing when something unpleasant and unexpected happens in my life (generally, something of significantly smaller scale than what Michael regularly faces)? Do I face my difficulties with patience, faith, trust, serenity, love?
Yes, sometimes these things happen and it's how we face them and how we deal with them that makes the difference. That is, after all, why these happen in the first place.
My brother is indeed a tremendous teacher. My job is to work on being a better student!