HARMONIZING FOR JOEY
My brother Joey was born without arms. When asked how something like this happens, the doctors simply said, “Sometimes it just happens.”
In 1950, a child born without arms in my hometown was considered “a freak of nature,” not normal. Because of this, most parents would have kept a child such as Joey from the public eye to avoid having people stare and express words of sympathy or pity.
My parents were different. When Joey was born they sat my brother, Sam, and me down and had a serious talk with us. Sam was six years old and I was seven. They told us that they were determined to help Joey have a full, active life, to have hopes and dreams like everyone else, but we would all have to work together to make it happen. Sam and I were thrilled to be on mom and dad’s so-called team to help Joey grow and develop and enjoy life.
As soon as Joey was able to sit up, Sam and I helped him learn to use his feet to scoot across the floor. We were amazed at how fast he could go. We got jumbo crayons and put them between his toes and when we colored, Joey colored. We laughed at his scribbles as well as our own.
Joey had an amazing mind and, along with my parents, Sam and I soon had Joey speaking in sentences and singing nursery rhymes by the time he was two. One he learned he could talk nothing stopped him. My dad said Joey rattled on “like an eight-day clock.”
When Joey was three and running around in the back yard with us, we bought him a soccer ball and the three of us began what was to become many years of wild, competitive soccer matches. We would play until we were exhausted and would then fall to the ground, laughing and talking.
We all worked together to help Joey learn to pick up utensils with he toes and feed himself. We created a special tool for him to use and pick up a wash cloth and wash himself in the shower. With each task that Joey was able to do on his own, we all rejoiced, gave each other high-fives, and sometimes cried.
What’s interesting is that Joey didn’t just receive, he also gave. He was a key member of the team. His keen sense of humor had us all laughing on a regular basis. His wit was beyond his years. His brilliant mind generated endless creative ideas on how to improve things around the house. He also came up with ways to help others with disabilities. At his direction and persistence, our school was one of the first to put in sidewalks with ramps for wheelchairs and to widen restroom stalls. He was a force to be reckoned with.
Perhaps his greatest contribution to our team was his ability to inspire us. He had a “never say die attitude,” a willingness to give anything a try, and just when we all needed a lift he would say, “We can make it happen, let’s do it.” When we tried something and failed, he would say, “Remember, failure’s not the end, it’s the beginning of trying again, a chance to do it better. We can’t give up.”
Joey went on to be captain of the high school soccer team and graduated second in his class. Without the family’s tremendous teamwork, without everyone’s willingness to work together and harmonize their efforts, Joey would most likely have remained at home, out of public view, and his brilliance, his wit, his ability to inspire others, would have been wasted.
“Normal is how you perceive normal, not what others tell you is normal.”