Keeping the Faith: Stories of Love, Courage, Healing, and Hope from Black America
By Tavis Smiley
My Baby Brother
On January 23, 1970, my baby brother, George, was born. He had cocoa skin, full lips, beautiful brown eyes, and a head full of gorgeous silky Black hair
George looked perfect on the outside, but he was born with a defective heart. My parents were crushed. But they were determined that they would get through this crisis.
The doctors informed my parents that George would need open-heart surgery to try to correct the defect in his heart. At this point, George was only weeks old. But it had to be done in order to prolong his life. So my parents agreed, and the battle began.
Through the course of his life, George would have several open-heart surgeries. To make things worse, when he turned two years old, George became ill with an extremely high fever. My parents took him to the emergency room at the local hospital only to be told by the attending resident physician that he had a minor illness. He was sent home. George's fever spiked so high that he had a stroke, which left him paralyzed on his right side and developmentally disabled.
My parents, however, never wavered and never crumbled. The love that they had for George always outweighed any obstacle; as a family, we were determined that we would get through this.
Throughout his life, and through all of his adversities, George was the most positive, kind, and loving individual imaginable. Even when he was in the hospital having yet another surgery, he was always happy and laughing. When he was undergoing physical, occupational, and speech therapy to learn how to walk and talk, he was always positive. George went to special schools for the mentally challenged and was later main-streamed into regular schools. Even though at times children could be cruel and hurtful toward him, my baby brother remained positive, happy, and loving.
My family made sure that whatever we did, George did as well. We took summer vacations together; when we all went to camp, George went too! George even went to his prom, which was a major accomplishment. He taught everyone who came in contact with him to make the most out of life.
The doctors told my parents at the outset that George would not live past the age of five. My parents did not believe that, and their love and care, along with George's zest for life and his will to live, proved them all wrong. George lived to be twenty-eight before he passed away in 1999. When he died, he died at home in his room, with his two favorite people with him. My mom was holding him, and my dad was sitting at the foot of his bed watching TV with him, something they loved to do together.
George taught us so many things before he left this earth. I thank-God every day for the time I had with him. I believe that people are put into our lives for different reasons and purposes. George was put into my family's life so that we could come to know a special kind of love and closeness, and to this day we do. I know I am a better person for having had him as a brother. A lot of families would have given up from day one, but not mine. Today we are so much stronger because of the love that my baby brother brought us.
My Pillow of Strength
The Valentine's Day dance, the homecoming dance, the winter formal, and all the other dances at my junior high school always ended up the same for me. I was a chubby and neurotic girl, with a preteen body that appeared as though it would develop into a big, bloated human pimple! With my body in its already "fluffy" state, I would swallow every crumb and sip every high-calorie drink I could get my hands on prior to the dance. Consequently, whatever custom-made outfit that my mom had sewn, during the few free swatches of her busy time, would appear to magnify my chunkiness even more. My face would turn into an acne-filled mess, or so it seemed to me. To my mom, however, I was always a beautiful princess.
All of the dances would end the same. My dad would come to pick up the princess at the end of the dance. He would always ask me how everything had gone, and I would always say "fine." I'd babble on and on about some unimportant details to avoid bursting into tears. As soon as we'd arrive home, I'd trudge to my room. Within a few minutes, a gentle knock could be heard, and in would walk my mom.
Without anything having been said, the tears would silently begin to stream down my chubby cheeks. At that point, my mother would take me in her arms and the saga would rush forth from my lips in between my sobs. The story I related was always the same. I'd recall all the girls who had been asked to dance and the boys who'd asked them, but I was always left out of the recollection.
During the dance, I would talk and laugh with my friends, each of whom, throughout the evening, had been asked to dance by someone, whether it was the captain of one of the sports teams or the chess champion. The point was that someone had asked them! In between their invitations, dances, and refusals, we would huddle to swap experiences. Well, at least they could swap experiences; all I could do was listen! This back-and-forth carousel would last the duration of the dance. To my dismay, I was never able to take a turn in participating. Sadly enough, not even the president of the insect club had asked me to dance.
Whenever I returned home and shared my experiences with my mother, she was always my pillow of strength. Her warm arms, soft lap, and soothing but strong words chased my pubescent problems away. She would tell me how special and beautiful I was, and she'd make sure I knew how much she, my dad, and my sister loved me. Then she'd immediately launch into praise of my talents and highlights of my accomplishments. Finally, she would tell me that someday I would have to run from all the boys because they'd all be chasing me for a dance!
Others tried to convince me of the positive attributes I possessed, but they were unsuccessful. There was something special about the way in which my mother approached these things, however. I don't know if it was the sparkle in her eye as she would talk to me or the dimple in her cheek as she smiled at me. Perhaps it was the stroke of her hand as she brushed back my hair; or maybe it was a combination of all of these things.
Whatever it was, I believed her when she said it. And there in the warm, soft lamplight in the quiet of our home, my "pillow of strength" would soak up my tears, kiss away my hurts, and infuse my soul with esteem, strength, and hope!