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By Geoff Jordan.
I can't remember living without my brother around. We are very close in age. I am 31 and Chris will be 30 on Aug 27, 2004. We are 20 months apart. Chris is the middle child and my blister, as I tease her - Suzanne, pulls up the rear at the age of 27.
Chris, nicknamed "The Bud" by friends and family, gets around with a walker and in a wheelchair. He takes meds to control a seizure disorder and his vision is limited. Chris is legally blind but on good days he can tell you what year and model Chrysler you are cruising beside as he loves cars. My brother uses 150% of everything he has to do the things that are reflex to us. I have learned to wait and watch him. This has taught me patience. This is why I believe "an A for effort", beats an A for the result. You can only get 100% on a test, unless there is a bonus question, but you can exceed that with the effort it takes getting there ... even if it takes longer. Chris is different just as we are all different from each other. My family is very close and they all have taught me things that make me W. Geoffrey J. "We are part of all that we have met ..." as my mother Kathleen, AKA "Socrates", often says quoting Tennison or someone philosophical.
We, "The Jordans", have learned to be ... loud. We are one noisy family. Because of that I can sleep just about anywhere. I think I could find a comfortable spot to lay my head at a rock concert. The Jordan Oasis, as I refer to my home growing up, was Grand Central Station. People were always coming and going. Chris and I shared a room as little guys and he also made his fair share of wavelengths and vibrations. He loved the sound of a vacuum cleaner, car engines, talking on the phone, music, tape recordings of his own voice imitating teachers at school and slamming doors. He would stand and open and close a door 500 times. He enjoyed that for a while there. Kids are repetitive and if you have ears that can hear the bluegrass grow down in Texas you certainly want to explore and make sounds of your own. Chris' hearing, sense of smell and touch are heightened from relying on them. He can tell who you are from the sound of your walk if he knows you and smells a fire before it is lit. The tape recorder routine let us know what was really going on at school for him. He had the PA system lingo down to his own little bit of standup. It was repetitive but funny. He also loved giving us his version of the weather forecast over and over again recorded on a bulky tape recorder. The play, stop, fast forward and rewind buttons were painted a bright green, red, yellow and blue respectively. There were thundershowers in the morning and sunshine and high temps in the afternoon - sometimes snow too. These forecasts were often abruptly interrupted by other PA announcements on playback. These were his little "skits" that he recorded, rewound with the audio on - "Alvin and the Chipmunks style" and then listened to. He would then rewind or fast forward the tape to start the process again.
Chris is now a man and like all boys you grow up a heck of a lot in your teenage and adolescent years and you become more mature. Chris like all kids grew up too and I got to watch him. As a boy, I used to run around the house in my underwear with a pillow case tied around my neck - arms out in front of me - record player blasting through the stereo system to the theme music of "Superman"! I ran circles through the house until my Dad came home and would say, "Settle!". And with that I was back in the imaginary phone booth as little Geoffrey J. Chris played with the doors and I ran circles through them over and over until Dad had enough. It takes children a while to learn how to become embarrassed and I hardly do the Superman thing anymore.
I watched Chris evolve into a courageous man who was driven to do what his brother and sister did and to find his own independence.
Chris wanted to test the limits and be his own person. He had more social skills than many fourteen year olds - and the courage of a soldier on D-Day. When Mom noticed he was no longer out on the court I was directed to hop in the van and find him - more to watch him. I observed many OC Transpo buses pass him by where he waited at the stop. He sat chatting with someone until a non-discriminating bus picked him up. I followed the bus through its route to the Town Centre where Chris transferred to the 96 to ride to the Bayshore Mall (Chris started the trend of hanging out in malls). He had no problem asking for directions or getting through obstacles such as curbs he couldn't see or doors that were closed. He certainly has faith.
I witnessed his survival skills and his desire to explore. He bummed a cigarette off a stranger and tried out the smoking scene. He also called home to let Mom know where he was. When he found out he was grounded for leaving the court without approval from the folks, he said, "Well - I'm not coming home till ten then!" - an, "I'll enjoy it while I can", mentality.
Chris has taught me to enjoy the time I have and those I love. Chris and I are very close as brothers and we have both grown up "side by each" together. We synchronize in the sense of humour department, that is for sure. We both can be a little whacked!
Chris gets people laughing. He has a gift that is absolutely wonderful to witness and experience and others have told me the same.
He also touches people somewhere inside and he is rarely scared of people or confrontation. He is confident that way. Talk about calling it how he sees things ... there is no sugar in his jar for coating much embarrassment. He knows who he likes and why. He listens and cares about your feelings. I describe Chris as "Mr. Social". He is a character and loves to be part of the action. He has a great sense of humour. He has taught me a lot about people and the acceptance of others no matter who they are. He is a "leveler" and what I mean by that is he sees no hierarchy in society. No one person is more important than another in social status, colour, or ability. He looks for the "Mr. or Mrs. You" in you and he wants to know if you have a dog, what its name is and when he can come over to meet it and visit.
Although Chris has limited vision, I think he sees more in people than the rest of us. His lack of vision is a special gift in a sense - pardon the pun - it had to be done (... OK that rhymed! I'll stop that).
One of my favorite stories of Chris that displays how he is a "leveler" is when he met the Governor General at the Launch of LifeTime Networks Ottawa, a charity my mother started five years ago. When he was introduced to Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson at a dinner function at her office, Chris said, "I don't think you have invited me here often for dinner. I think you should have me over more often". Adrienne Clarkson answered by saying "Not many people get invited for dinner here Chris", and I guess he though that was fair enough - he hadn't had her over much either.
Chris has also taught me that life is fragile and that life isn't fair: you must make the best of it and keep your head high. Think positive, be positive, resolve what you can and think in solutions.
For example, he taught me to sense things like he does. Smell, taste, touch and listen. If you can remember to wait a second and experience, sense and feel the simple things around you like the view of an early morning sunrise, the feeling of the sun shining on your skin or the smell of a crisp evening snowfall - every day can be a great experience.
Chris doesn't see himself as "disabled". I have recently learned he doesn't like talking about it. If you ask him and press him on it, it is hard for the words to come out. Why focus on that when he is so much more.
When you meet a new person for the first time you might store the memory of that person in your "New Persons I Have Met Folder". I think many times when people meet Chris or someone like him, by inherent brain conditioning, they enter him in a sub folder titled "Disability". I think Chris would rather have you put that folder in your mental recycling bin. I have seen this at times when Chris must answer questions with Mom and together fill out forms regarding his health for benefits. He starts off by saying that he isn't blind and then Mom asks him again and eventually he says he is blind although he follows that statement up with a grand "But I can see a little bit! Like colours and stuff and I see you there" and he points with his finger targeting your direction.
I have a "list of secrets to success" on my office wall and one of the points says, "Be the most positive and enthusiastic person you know". It can be a hard one but when you pull through, it feels great. I think of Chris and my friend Rory when I read it.
In Chris's unique challenges, I have witnessed him and my family fight for Chris's right to be educated in the regular school system, take a public bus and to be accepted in society. This has taught me to stand up for what I believe in, voice my opinions even if they are not popular, do not compromise my principles, and stand confident on my own if I believe in something - do not back down if the consequence is worth the effort.
I feel very fortunate to have the athletic able body and the mobility that I do. As a kid, Chris never complained, even today - as his disability has progressed, he rarely does. Chris is tough as nails. He has incredible upper body strength - shoulders the size of basketballs. I have seen him in hundreds of situations where he is brave, strong and puts up with the pain. He has had many surgeries and a few ambulance rides to the hospital. So essentially I have learned that I am a weakling ... Ha ha! No - he is inspiring to his older brother - to hang in there - tough it out and get going on the path ahead. He is so much better at that than me. I am not so good with physical pain. "The Bud" has willpower that he must have got from our Dad. My Dad quit 10 years of smoking - cold turkey and kept a pack in his front shirt pocket just as a reminder that he's never to touch them again. Chris went on his first ever diet and lost 40 to 50 pounds.
Chris has taught me to never give up. If there is something Chris wants to do, he will manipulate the situation any way he can to get what he wants. He is strategic - watch out Survivor! In those moments he is "Mr. Workaround" - that takes real creativity and he'll leave you thinking in the box. He is smart that way. If there is a physical obstacle to get around like a flight of stairs to get into his brother's apartment - I tell you it might as well be his Everest. He climbs the staircase sweating, muscles shaking with the lift of his body up each stair one leg at a time. He has determination for things he is interested in. I watch him and I learn these things.
My parents have always been great to us, their kids. They have taught us many of life's lessons like good parents do. One thing my sister taught me is how to share and to be more giving of myself and of my things. Chris has taught me a long list of life's essentials also.
Chris has great empathy for others, their difficulties and their feelings. He is great at discussing those situations with you and letting you know that he is thinking of you in your tough times. He always offers to help. On his own, he'll send cards, bring you flowers and visit when you are in the hospital. He has great insight when it comes to his observation of your emotions. He understands. He listens. He has taught me that. Chris and I have been brothers since the day he was born and I feel grateful to have him as my bro. I'm sure I would be a different person if I did not know him. He makes me remember that we are all people here on this Earth and we are all important to our friends, family and loved ones just the way we are.
If the above article was too long for you to read, my brother has taught me:
The National Film Board of Canada is currently working on a cross-Canada venture to promote The Ties That Bind Internet Documentary & Community Engagement Project. For more information visit the Ties That Bind web site. This site allows you to participate in the discourse around independent living and people with disabilities. Current topics include discussion about: letting go, choice, community, citizenship, money, partnerships, belonging, and making a difference.
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