From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

If the World Could See with
My Sister’s Eyes

And be my sister blessed in every spot
In every station and in every lot
Long may she live with sweet contentment
For ever cherished and for ever dear.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I was six years old and my brother, Hud, was three when my sister, Mintie, was born. That day we were staying at our great-grandparents’, and Daddy came home to tell us we had a new baby sister. I remember I grabbed Hud’s hands to jump around but he didn’t feel like jumping; he’d wanted a brother. On the way to the hospital to see Mom and our new baby sister, Daddy told us that Mintie was sick when she was born with a very high fever and something called “jaundice,” so she would be in a special place at the hospital. Well, that was okay. I was just excited about seeing the new baby.

After we saw Mom, we went down the hall to meet our sister. Right from the start, our sister was different. We looked into the nursery through the huge window. Most of the babies were near the window, but Daddy showed us “our” baby at the back of the nursery. She was in a kind of clear box with a bright light inside. She was very small, red and wrinkled, with crazy black hair and a black mask over her eyes. Daddy said it was to fix the jaundice. Hud and I seemed to decide right then and there that we were the big brother and big sister, and if our sister was small and sick we’d just have to take care of her!

Because she had been so sick, Mintie didn’t get to come home when Mom did, but when she did come home I was ready to be the big sister. Mintie was so quiet you could barely hear her cry, and she was so small! Not premature small, but petite and delicate small, like a porcelain doll. The crazy black hair was replaced with the traditional Athey baby-blonde. Except for being so quiet, Mintie seemed to be growing and developing just like any other baby I knew. She was as pleasant as could be, and Hud and I thought we had a real live doll because she’d let us dress her up in crazy costumes without any fuss. When she should have started talking, however, she just didn’t. The doctors told us that parts of her brain had been damaged from the fever she had when she was born. She would never learn to speak more than a few words, and she would always be tiny and fragile. The family was going to have to learn sign language to communicate with her. So we enrolled in sign language classes. Hud and I were going to have a big job taking care of this little sister.

Mintie had been experiencing several medical difficulties. She was in and out of Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh for treatments and operations. She was always in pain, and we learned she always had been. In fact, when the doctors pinched her and asked her if it hurt, she shook her head no; they said she didn’t know what it was not to hurt. Everybody at the hospital loved Mintie, both children and adults. One evening while we were visiting, a little boy with leukemia, with whom Mintie had played often, died. The nurses made everyone close their doors as the doctors tried to revive him and then wheeled him down the hall. Mintie was five.

Due to the combination of language deficit and medical problems, it was recommended that Mintie reside at the Rehabilitation Institute in Pittsburgh for six months to monitor her medical progress and receive intensive language therapy. She would only come home on weekends. So every Friday we made the two-hour trip into Pittsburgh to pick her up, and every Sunday we did the same to take her back. As at Children’s Hospital, everyone at the Institute loved Mintie. She was always in a good mood, sweet and loving. My favorite memory from the Institute days is of Mintie’s special buddy, one of the nurses, a very large, very dark ex-NFL player, walking across the parking lot holding the hand of our very small, very pale sister. The contrast was so great we just had to laugh. I’ve never seen such a large man be so gentle.

Throughout our experience with our special little sister, our family relied heavily on our faith and friends in the church. After serious thought, discussion and lots of prayer, the elders of the church performed a laying on of hands ceremony to pray for Mintie’s healing. No miracles happened that evening; she didn’t jump up and shout and spout full sentences. But that evening things started to change. Mintie’s next operation was her last. She started saying more words until she was speaking in sentences. We joke that today we can’t get her to shut up! And the only signs I remember are for “cookie” and “play” because she used them so much.

This was not the end of the obstacles, however. Mintie had several learning exceptionalities. She was placed in special education classes in school, and we were told she would never learn on grade level. I remember sitting with her for literally six hours a night working on homework assignments that took the other kids only an hour or so. By seventh grade, however, she had been mainstreamed into the regular classroom for all subjects. When it was time to go to the high school, however, we had concerns. The high school program would be a step back for Mintie, involving resource classrooms and little or no mainstreaming. We decided to homeschool her and joined a Christian homeschool group through which Mintie could earn a technical diploma in child care. She began working at a local preschool, learning practical skills in all areas of child care and management.

All of Mintie’s academic accomplishments despite the obstacles she faced are not what make her so special; it’s Mintie herself. She is an innocent, and her love is unconditional. She always finds the good in people and never notices the bad. Put a crying baby in Mintie’s arms, and it is calmed. All those around her are soothed. Some people have pitied her innocence, but prejudice and cruelty have never touched her. When kids made fun of her, Mintie simply didn’t understand or even realize their cruelty. She would come home and ask, “Why did they do that?” or “Why did they say that?” She doesn’t understand because there is no cruelty in her, and what is not in her simply does not exist in her eyes. The needs and wants of others always come first. Anyone whose life has touched hers has come away better. She has never been angry. She is never in a bad mood. She has cried only out of frustration or when she sees others hurt or fighting. Neither Hud nor I have ever had a fight with her, and believe me we fought with each other! She is peaceful and a lover of peace.

On May 23, 1997 at 7:30 P.M., Mintie graduated from high school. And she was no longer our fragile little sister; she is taller than I and broader than Hud. The ceremony was small, only the other members of the homeschool group, a few family friends and immediate family. Several people were asked to speak, including me. As each speaker addressed the gathering, silent tears fell. I struggled through my own tears as I stood behind the podium. I was not crying because she is my sister and graduation is an emotional event. I was crying because Mintie is what humankind has striven to be. In so many ways, instead of Hud and I taking care of her, she takes care of us. When our faith is weak, hers is always strong. When we are hurt or angry, she is soothing and calm. When we expect the worst in people, she sees the best. As the Chinese proverb states:

If there is light in the soul,
There will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person,
There will be harmony in the house.
If there is harmony in the house,
There will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation,
There will be peace in the world.

You see, Mintie has light in her soul. She is the most beautiful person I know. She brings harmony to the lives of all those around her. She sees good and order where many see none. If the world could see with my sister’s eyes, there would be peace in the world.

Amanda Athey Swain

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