Friday, February 22, 2013

On Brian and his Greatness

     My brother is on a very high pedestal, everything he's overcome, everything he's gone through and literally survived... So many people look up to him and respect him. His story has reached people all over the world, and serves as excellent testimony to God's goodness.

     Today my younger brother is 20 years old. 20 years. It's really gone by so quickly, and yet at the same time it feels like an eternity. This year is particularly special in light of everything that went on in Spring of 2012. Last year, it looked like he wouldn't have another birthday. It looked like the end. His heart ruined by viral myocarditis, he didn't have months to live without a heart transplant, which takes about 6+ months usually to get a donor heart. He didn't have that time to wait, it wasn't possible. Then the miracle happened. Just 3 days after being put on the national registry to receive a heart, the call came in. We had a heart for Brian. Long story short, they put the new heart in, and now he's alive and really quite well. I promise you, not a single day goes by that I don't thank God so much for giving my brother back to me. Not a day goes by that I don't tell my brother that I love him. I am so overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for his life, and ultimately so blessed to be able to celebrate his 20th birthday with him now.

     My brother is very unique. He's the most humble person I know; just earlier I was having a conversation with him about the whole heart thing. I told him that his story has touched the lives of so many, I told him that I'm so proud of him, and I told him that God is so good to provide us that miracle. He got sort of red, and then mildly told me "It's funny... Everyone always says that I'm a 'miracle child', but I don't feel like that at all... I don't feel special, it doesn't feel like I did anything great." I was just sort of taken aback by this statement; the kid had heart surgery, he's been through SO MUCH... How could he not feel some sense of pride and accomplishment for that? My own heart is overwhelmed with pride for him, how can he not feel some mite of the same for himself? I prodded a bit further. "Why not? How do you not feel like some kind of hero after everything you've gone through? You've overcome so much, kiddo; you're not the victim here, you're the victor!" He knit his eyebrows together in his signature expression, indicating that the wheels are turning in his head. After a moment, he told me "But I DIDN'T do anything... I didn't put the heart in, I didn't donate a heart, I didn't do anything special." Again, I'm astounded. I said "But you survived... You lived, and because of that so many people are inspired, Brian; so many people thank God because of it!" And then he said something very wise, something I should have thought of. "I guess that's the thing. I didn't do anything; God did all the work. I'm not a hero..." and his eyes filled with tears, and so did mine.
     Throughout everything, my brother remains so incredibly humble. He doesn't want his trials to define him; he's told me that explicitly before. He doesn't want respect and honours for what he's been through. He doesn't want attention; in fact he rather disdains it. He just wants to be a normal kid. And he is. So let me tell you about him, with nothing to do with his trials. Let me tell you who he is, and what makes him tick.

     He has a great love for video games and anime. So many hours have been spent over the years playing Legend of Zelda, Super Smash Bros., Gundam, Dynasty Warriors, Mario Party, Halo, and even Harvest Moon. Many hours have been spent watching Gintama, Sgt. Frog, Bleach, Naruto, One Piece, DragonBall Z, and Hetalia. Lately, evenings are usually spent in my room. He sits on the end of my bed and either plays video games or watches anime on netflix while I work on the computer and the cat chills on the bed. It's just the three of us, Brian, myself, and the cat, usually silent, but all enjoying each others' company. It's this really simple thing, but it's really beautiful to spend time like that. My brother is a huge Nintendo fanboy, and even has a bookbag in the style of an old NES controller.

     Brian loves to go for drives. Not like roadtrip status, but just a simple drive around Chatsworth Reservoir. We get sodas, and I drive him around. Sometimes I drive him to Chinatown/Little Tokyo, where we get ramen and indulge our love of anime and Asian culture. Anywhere we go, though, I hand him the MP3 player, and tell him "you're the DJ, find us something good to listen to", and his face lights up, honoured to be assigned this most important task, and he puts on the stuff he likes to listen to.

     Like most young people, he loves music. His taste is just as varied and eclectically odd as my own, which I suppose makes sense, as his musical tastes have been largely influenced by me, I guess. Sometimes he listens to motown. Other times he listens to K-Pop. And still other times, he listens to hip-hop, rap, 90s boy bands, and even power metal. One thing's for sure, though; that boy loves his music. Almost weekly, he asks me to update the music on his ipod/iphone for him. Heaven forbid if he gets an itunes gift card; I don't hear the end of it until every last cent is spent and all songs have been successfully uploaded onto all his devices.

     My brother simply adores pugs. And kittens. And really all cute animals. He practically melts if we run into a pug while walking someplace, and we always ask the owner if we can pet it. If the owner gives us permission, instead of petting the pug's back like he would do with any other dog, Brian caresses the wrinkly face. After running his hands across the crevasses of its face, he then goes for the tail. He loves the curly tails pugs have. As he's doing all this, all 6 feet of him hunched over giving the pug attention, you'll inevitably hear him going "awwwwwwwww" and sometimes saying "this dog is SO CUTEEEEEEEEEEE" which is sort of heartwarmingly and adorably amusing to see a guy of his stature saying and doing.

     Brian loves to cook. This is somewhat unexpected, and I think this hobby came about during my days of wanting to go to culinary school. He started out with making "additions" to the ever-so-humble pre-packaged ramen. He'd try putting onion and garlic powder in, sometimes he's try scrambled eggs in it, etc. Eventually he branched out, and began making other things, like omelets, rice with toppings, panini, etc. Some of what he makes is quite good, actually. Sometimes it's inedible, though. I try and eat anything he makes me, though, because ultimately, when he makes food for me, it's not so much that I have something to eat, but rather it's to try and impress me and make me proud, and maybe even one-up me if he can cook something even better than I can. 

     My brother is a gentleman, and an all-around good guy. He always opens doors for people (a skill acquired in the past few years, thankfully), he's very polite and respectful to everyone, and he'll go out of his way to help people. I remember one day, he had just gotten home from riding the municipal bus from school (a good 30-minute ride, if not longer). He informed me casually that he was very tired, and his legs hurt him quite a bit. I asked him "what's the matter?" "I stood the whole time on the bus home." "Oh my goodness! there were no seats?" "Well when I first got on, there were seats. But on the first stop, a girl got on, and there was no place to sit, so I got up and let her sit down." "Brian, that was so good of you!" "Well it was the only decent thing to do, right? You always get up on the bus if old people get on, right?" "I'm proud of you, that was very kind of you. Go lay down and rest your legs." Yet another time, he was sent to school with 20 dollars in his pocket, and told to bring the change back to my parents. When he got home, there was no change. "What happened? Did they not give you change for your lunch?" "No, my friend didn't have any money, so I bought him lunch." His spirit of kindness and generosity is very beautiful; I wish more people could be like him.

     There's not too much in this world that he dislikes, really, but the two things that he probably hates the most are cheese and dubstep. I have no idea really why the extreme disdain for cheese, especially because he eats pizza (go figure). But he absolutely WILL NOT TOLERATE cheese on anything else. As for dubstep, it just sort of freaks him out. I had the same reaction when I first heard it, honestly. But he really just won't put up with it; even if just a short part in a song has dubstep in it, he demands to change the channel. Which is fine with me.

     Perhaps the oddest thing about Brian, though, even odder than abhorring cheese, is his absolute love and loyalty for me. We get along excellently now, we really couldn't be closer, but back when we were kids I couldn't stand him. That sounds odd to hear me say now, because I love nobody on the earth more than I love my brother. But when we were kids, different story. He annoyed the living daylights out of me. Following me around, always wanting to be in the middle of everything I was doing, butting in when my friends and I would hang out; he was nothing but a pest to me, and I resented him. I was such a jerk to him, I really was. I'd make fun of him, yell at him, hide his stuff, etc. Really just an awful older sister. The weirdest thing about all that was that he'd never get mad at me, he'd never stop trying to gain my love and attention, he'd never retaliate. He always looked up to me and adored me, even when I hated him. One day, quite literally overnight, something inside me switched over. I can't really explain it, it was truly so abrupt and without precedence. But one day, I just sort of decided/realized "I want to protect this kid. I want to take care of him always, and do my best to make him happy." And I did. The thing I'm really grateful for is that the scars of my awfulness to him during our childhood seem to be a lot worse on my soul than his; he seems oddly unaffected by my hideous behaviour towards him in our youth, and I couldn't be more grateful for that. I don't have many regrets in life, but treating my brother like that is most definitely one of them. What I really love, though, is how his love for me parallels Christ's love for us. 1 John 4:19 says "We love Him, because He first loved us". Even when we were against Him, even when we hated Him and were His enemies, God loved us. In no other circumstance have I better seen such love displayed and paralleled as with my brother. Even when I hated him, he still loved me, he still craved my attention. Just as I'm not worthy of God's love, neither am I worthy of Brian's. But I so gratefully and humbly accept both, and it's my greatest desire to do my best to serve God, and glorify Him through my love and service to my precious brother.

     My brother is on a very high pedestal. I so very much look up to him, he's my hero, he's my earthly treasure. Nobody on this planet am I more proud of, nobody on the earth do I love more than I do my dear little brother. The world is looking up at him, yet he still looks up to me. And that is honestly the most humbling thing I've ever experienced in my life. Why he thinks I'm so wonderful, why he ever thought that to begin with when we were kids, it's truly beyond my comprehension; it defies all human logic. And I suppose that's really rare and beautiful. I am just so very humbled by him, though. In hospital settings, while he's having his blood drawn, he'll introduce the nurse to me, and tell her about how great I am, what I do with my life, etc. Not about himself, not "oww this hurts", not about anything else when I'm there. It's immediately "Oh, this is my sister, Kris!" And it's as though for him, he's just had the immeasurable honour of introducing the queen of the universe. And for me, I embarrassedly smile, say "how do you do" or some such appropriate greeting, and then glance at my brother's sweet, beaming face, and wonder why. My brother adores me, and I adore him. But I think his adoration for me is far more than mine can ever be for him, believe it or not. As silly as this analogy may be, it's honestly quite relevant to how I feel about the situation of him being on a pedestal while simultaneously putting me on a pedestal. You know that scene in "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" during the coronation of Aragorn? Well, Aragorn has just been crowned king, and is walking through the crowd. He gets to where the 4 hobbits are standing. (For those unfamiliar, the hobbits are arguably the main heroes of the whole story, and they go through most of the hardships, at least physically, especially Frodo). The 4 hobbits bow low to the now-king Aragorn, but Aragorn tells them "No, you bow to no one." And the hobbits slowly stand back up, and Aragorn bows to them, and the entire population on the terrace bows to them as well. Brian is the hobbits. The TRUE hero of the story. The one who had it the worst, the one who miraculously survived, the one who accomplished the task, and yet the one who is still inexplicably so humble. I am Aragorn (this part of the analogy doesn't fit quite so well, because I'm nothing special or so important as a king, but bear with me). The hobbits looked up to Aragorn, even from the beginning they knew he was different; similarly Brian has humbly looked up to me from the beginning. While my brother would be so quick to praise me to other people (equivalent to bowing to Aragorn), I wish so much to have people see the true greatness, which is in BRIAN himself and not me (equivalent to Aragorn telling them "you bow to no one").

     I really just want the world to see how wonderful he is. He's such a beautiful person, he honestly is, but he's so humble and so quiet about his own life. So, in my absolute and unabashed pride in him, I will be his advocate. My great love for him is a testament not only to how wonderful my brother is, but also how good our God is. First, God's love for us is so good and pure. Even when we hated God, He loved us. (even when I was the worst sister in the world, Brian sought me out and adored me as his big sister) We don't deserve God's love, but through His saving grace, we are free to accept it. (I couldn't accept my brother's love without forgiveness. I had to make things right with him [which was ridiculously simple, because he held no grudges] before I could even think about accepting his beautiful love). God has been so ultimately good to my family; to be able to celebrate Brian's 20th birthday is a blessing that none of us expected or even deserved. God gave us the miracle of my brother's life, but more importantly He gave us the miracle of the death and resurrection of His own son. God's great love for us was indeed SO great, that He would give His son as a way for us to claim His love. Whether my brother likes it or not, his story is one of inspiration; it's a story meant to be told, and not hidden away. And while my brother is still amazing, he's right; he's not the hero of the story here. It was all God.

     I'll end this with one of my most precious memories from last year. It was October, he had been re-hospitalized due to bizarrely high CPK levels. I was staying at the hospital with him, per his request, and it was my honour to oblige. It was about 2am, the room was completely dark. He quietly asked me "kristin, let's listen to some music on the ipad so I can sleep" I told him "sweetie, it's 2am, the lady is trying to sleep in the room next door... We can't listen to music tonight." Silence for a little while. "Kristin?" "Yes babycakes?" "........will you sing me a lullaby?" Silence again. I don't sing... I didn't know any lullabies, I didn't know what to do. The chair I was sleeping in faced the window looking out over the city. I looked out into the dark city, took a deep breath, and softly began singing "Hey Jude" to him. I was scared, to me it sounded awful, how on earth would he be able to sleep through that?! Then after a while, I quietly sang "Yesterday" to him. Surprisingly, my singing skills had not improved at all, and this was a trainwreck as well. When I began to attempt singing "Strawberry Fields Forever", I looked back at him. He was sleeping, gently snoring. What touched my heart, though, was what I could just barely see: his face, dimly lit by the monitors and scans plugged into him, resting peacefully, with the sweetest, most angelic smile as he slept that you could ever hope to see. I can't sing. At all. But to him, the songs I sang him were perfect, soothing and sweet. And later that next day, I would be told enthusiastically by him "you should try out for American Idol".

     Brian, my dear, darling brother, happiest of birthdays to you! I really just want you to know that I am so so so beyond blessed and honoured and privileged to be your big sister. I want you to know that I truly do love you more than anything on the planet, and I want you to know that I'm proud of you. I'm so so proud of you, Brian. You've done so much more than I ever could, truly. I hope I can be as amazingly great of a big sister to you as you've been amazingly great as a little brother to me. God has used you in such incredible ways, my dear, and through you has taught me so many valuable life lessons. You're my inspiration, for everything I'm going to do; it's you, kiddo. It's all you.  I love you to the moon and back, and can't wait to celebrate your 80th, 90th, and even 100th birthdays with you! (I know we can make it! :D) Brian, my babycakes, I adore you, and everything our great God has done through you and for you.
ALL my love,


Monday, February 18, 2013

Ladybug Man

    As most businesses do, the place where I used to work had a lot of "usual" customers; people that would come in every day, or every week, and recognized the employees and had very casual acquaintanceships with them.

     I'll never forget, there was one customer in particular who would always come in while I was working. I guess he learned which car was mine (he was incredibly intelligent) and would only come in while I was working. He would also only be rung up for his purchases by me; he would wait specifically for me to ring him up.

     He was always dressed the same; button-down short sleeve shirt tucked into khaki pants. His face reminded me vaguely of William Hung; he had a sort of perpetual small smile on his face, and also had similar hair. Every time he would come in, he wore the same attire. I think he was an engineer, he said. He was very smart, and could figure out the total of his purchase before I even rang it up by calculating the taxes and CRV rates. Maybe that's an easy feat and I just don't know it because I'm terrible at math. I don't know, but it was sort of impressive, in a creepy are-you-a-robot kind of way.

     In the beginning when he first started coming in, conversation was kept to a minimum, if not altogether nonexistent. He would mumble to himself as he added up the total, making his robotic calculations. He would smile and hand me the total in exact change, take his receipt and things and leave. As time progressed, though, I guess he became intrigued with me. He started coming in more often, and became more personable, asking me how my day was and simple things like that during his transaction. He was very strange, almost disconnected with reality.

     Things became really odd when he would come in, and sort of hide behind the aisles and just watch me while I worked at the register. It was almost like a child playing peek-a-boo; he would conceal himself behind the aisle and then peer around the corner, and when I made eye contact quickly duck back.

     One time, he came in, and just simply got his things and came to the counter, without playing his usual odd game of hide and seek. He put his things on the counter and I proceeded to ring them up. I noticed him digging around in his pocket; I just assumed that he was fishing around for the exact change that he would inevitably pay with. I looked up at him, told him the total, which I'm sure he already knew. He hadn't been mumbling to himself, though; he hadn't been calculating anything this time... He was even more disconnected from reality than usual. Finally, he produced something from his pocket that I would never ever forget...

    He looked me right in the eyes, smiled his odd little smile, and, while maintaining eye contact with me, raised his closed fist slowly to my eye level, and then opened his hand... On the tips of his fingers was a tiny red ladybug. As if it sensed some cue from the pulsing blood in his fingertips, the ladybug immediately took flight and flew off into the store. I just stood there staring at it, watching it leave the bizarre scene. The man never stopped staring at my face the entire time. Finally, I snapped back into reality, slowly and confusedly looked back into the man's eyes, searching for some explanation of the surreal and bizarre even that had just transpired. The man said in the strangest voice I've ever heard "make a wish..." and his mouth curled slightly into an even odder smile than usual.

     Slightly jarred, I told him what his total was. He payed with a credit card that day. He had never done that before. I handed him the receipt, he took his things without saying a word, and he left.

     I never saw him again after the ladybug incident. I'm not sure where he went, or what happened to him. Maybe he evolved into some kind of monster, parallel to his evolution as a customer, getting odder and odder until one day he broke the scale of oddity, his sanity flying off into the world in the form of a humble ladybug.