Looking Up to My Little Brother
Example is a two-way street.

Four minutes. Two hundred and forty seconds. What could you do in that amount of time? Hicham El Guerrouj can run a mile with fifteen seconds to spare. Carlton Williams can do two hundred and sixty-six pushups. Super moms can have a shower, wash their hair, and get dressed—all in the span of four minutes.

Now these are some pretty impressive feats, but my brother Joshi puts all of them to shame. Within the time of one of my mum’s famous showers, he can give himself a patchwork-style buzzcut and incite an insurrection on our chicken capital by breaking down the padlock door (which we lock to keep him out rather than the chickens in). He can oust McNuggets and her fellow leftwing hens from their perch and herd them into our neighbor’s less-than-favorable pasture—alerting the guard dogs. But he’s not done! He can also run to the other side of our property, grab our water tank’s hose and hoist it over the fence into our neighbor’s back patio, turning the tap on full blast and recreating the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

Joshi has Down syndrome, a disability where someone is born with an extra chromosome, causing both mental and physical delays. Despite all of this handicap, individuals with Down syndrome are known for their humor, affection, creativity and hard work.

There is a myriad of lessons I’ve learned from Joshi, but here is one: God used Joshi to show me the power of example.

Every family has their quirks. My family has a unique way of displaying affection: We occasionally give each other a tap on the bum to say hi. Everyone has heard that with children, what you do at home does not stay at home. This is especially true with Down syndrome children.

In our congregation was one of the kindest, warmest elderly ladies named Mrs. Hughes. She was especially good with Joshi, and he loved spending time with her. Down syndrome children are characteristically loving and see everyone as family. One Sabbath, Josh decided to make sure that Mrs. Hughes knew, without a doubt, that she fit into that category.

We were fellowshipping after services and suddenly noticed that Joshi was missing. Every member of our family set off in different directions to find him. Having checked the corners of the room with no success, we turned to the stage.

And there we spotted him. Coming up behind Mrs. Hughes, arm extended and slowly winding up for maximum impact. Before we could yell, “Stop!”, Joshi launched forward, driving his hand into the swing, giving poor Mrs. Hughes the wallop of her life!

Now, in hindsight, this event is rather comical and, thankfully, Mrs. Hughes survived, but it made me realize the importance of my actions behind closed doors. I was the biggest user of that greeting technique, so Joshi probably learned it from me. Older siblings hear all the time that younger siblings are watching your every move. Impending doom awaits if they repeat your not-so-appropriate actions.

It is too easy for that reality to become meaningless. With Joshi, I was constantly reminded of the results of my actions. I quite literally impacted someone else through the example I set for Joshi.

With Down syndrome children, it’s not just the big things they’ll pick up; it’s even more so the small things—like the way you greet people or your subtle attitudes. Josh has taught me that those small things add up. You can either make or break someone through your influence.

We hear a lot about how our example impacts other people. But what about the flip side? What about how their actions impact us?

Down syndrome children are known for their compassion and empathy—and Joshi is no different. I could recount many stories of him brightening people’s day with his cheeky smile or curing people’s tears as he nestles his way into their arms. Joshi is uniquely in tune with emotional needs and knows exactly how to fill them.

In contrast, I am not the most emotionally forward person. When I came to Herbert W. Armstrong College, I really struggled to show empathy. I distinctly remember a moment in freshmen year when someone came to me crying. I was out of my comfort zone to say the least. I did not understand why the thing causing their tears was a problem. I was confused, my reaction confused them—it was a mess. Sadly, that incident ended with me giving them an awkward pat on the back and telling them to “keep at it!”

After that incredibly uncomfortable encounter, I realized this was a weakness I needed to change, and it led me to think about Joshi. Joshi can’t speak an entire sentence coherently, yet he can empathize and express compassion better than I ever could! In a situation like the one I encountered, Joshi would have thrived.

Example is a two-way street—it’s a combination of what you can offer, but also how someone else can impact you. I realized that I had been so focused on the example I set for Joshi that I overlooked everything God could have taught me through Josh’s strengths. It is easy to view the subject of example from a singular standpoint and miss the growth that can come from seeing both perspectives.

Since coming to that realization, I have tried to apply this way of thinking with those around me at college. It has helped me to see their incredible examples. I have learned from my peers at God’s college the art of service, how to aim high, the meaning of hard work, the power of positivity and how to sous vide a chuck roast. But Josh was the one who taught me to look for those examples in the first place.

Having a sibling with Down syndrome is a handful, but God has used Joshi to remind me to see the character of those I’m surrounded by every day. It is their strengths that I need to make a part of who I am. God’s Church is full of diversity. We all have something to offer—something we can learn from each and every member—and that starts by looking to their examples.