My brother doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want to write about it. What seems to many something quite remarkable and admirable is, for him, very normal and not that big of a deal.
The world is full of amazing stories that inspire us. For the first time, I want to tell this story because it’s very close to me. I want to share it because I lived it, and I’m a proud witness of a life experience that is so rewarding. Simply reflecting on it has influenced the actions I’ve taken in my own life, and in a way, the main character of the story can’t imagine.
Miguel is my older brother by 11 years. When I was 6, he was 17. During this time in our lives, our family lived in Lima, Perú.
I still remember the night we received the phone call that made my parents dash out of the house at full speed, leaving me and my siblings with one of our aunts. My brother, Miguel, had been in an accident.
From that point on, everything was sort of confusing to me since no one told us, the younger siblings, what was going on.
I remember that my parents went to Houston for months, leaving us kids with grandma and making lightning-speed trips, whenever they could, back to visit us to see how we were. We didn’t have internet or email. Just letters and really expensive international phone calls.
Almost a year later, my father very cleverly put together a trip for us to Disney World with another trip to Houston to see my brother. I remember it like it was yesterday – entering the main doors of the Houston House, where he lived a short distance from the medical center. I saw him sitting in a wheelchair, one that would accompany him for the rest of his life.
That night, in 1979, my brother was in an accident that severed his spinal cord. The result? Paralysis from the neck down.
What is fear? May I ask you?
What is fear, really? What are we afraid of?
I don’t know what would have happened to my life if, at the age of 17 someone told me I’d never be able to walk again. I’m not sure I would have been able to get through the days, the weeks, the months… confined to a bed. The year of therapy, the multiple surgeries, the doubt and fear. I don’t know what went through my brother’s mind. I don’t know what he did to become who he is today. I don’t know if he was depressed. I don’t know if he cried or was scared. I don’t know because I’ve never seen him depressed or scared. What I do know is that if I were in his shoes, I would have panicked, shouted, and cursed the world and everyone for my misfortune. I world would have turned into a gigantic, tumultuous, and dark question mark.
But now I see my brother, and I see a fulfilled man who radiates peace. I see a professional, totally independent with two college degrees, a master’s, and a wonderful marriage of over 25 years. I see a happy man. I see a well-balanced man. How? Why?
Miguel uses humor as a life skill. He’s not in a hurry, he doesn’t complain, he just lives day by day, and as you might imagine, his life is full of stories.
I want to tell you one, from my point of view, that reflects his attitude in the face of problems, adversity, and life in general.
Miguel lived in the dorms at the University of Houston for a few years. This was before the time of cell phones. On Sunday, he made plans to meet some friends to watch a football game at someone’s house.
“That morning, it was foggy and raining – he remembers – my car was parked in a small parking lot across from the dorm entrance. It’s an uncovered, open-air lot, separate from the main parking garage. I had a six-pack of beer with me to share with my friends while we watched the game.
As always, I started the process of moving from my chair to the car seat and then put my chair in the backseat. When I was in the process of going from my chair to the driver’s seat, the chair slipped on the wet pavement and I lost my balance and fell between the chair and my car. A bit confused as it happened, I saw my chair slowly rolling away, like in slow motion.
Well, there I was on the ground in the middle of the parking lot without being able to climb into my chair or the car, and the rain was pouring on my face. Realizing I couldn’t do anything, I started to shout for help: HELP! HELP! HELP! After shouting for 15 minutes, I realized that there wasn’t a soul around to help me, no one was going to hear me, the parking lot was empty, it was Sunday, and it was raining.
Knowing that at this point there was no way I was making it to the game and supposing that sooner or later someone would come along, I decided to work to reach the cushion of my chair and sat on it leaning up against the car – why not make the most of it, no? So I opened up a beer. The pack had fallen close to me, and why let them get warm?
Probably an hour and a half later I could see an umbrella moving nearby, and I started to shout again. A “good samaritan” found me tossing around, soaked, and with “one too many to drink” on the ground of the parking lot, laughing hysterically and surrounded by six empty bottles of beer. I missed the game, but no one took the party away from me. “
How many times do we curse, insult, or complain when we don’t get what we want right when we want it?
I can’t avoid it. Every time something happens, whether I get sick or something goes wrong with my business, I let out my frustration. But immediately, I remember my brother, and I shut my mouth.
He has been a great example of courage and perseverance. He’s taught me, maybe without even realizing it, and better than any self-help book or motivational course out there, that each one of us is responsible for how we live our lives no matter what life puts in front of us.
In addition, Miguel has a positive attitude that helps him achieve what seems impossible. To tell you why, I have to go back to December 2015, when Miguel had 345 days left to retire from the University of Texas and dedicate himself to the things he currently enjoys the most, such as reading and painting. Everyone in the family agrees that this retreat is a well-deserved reward for a life of effort and improvement.
But on New Year’s Eve on December 31, we all noticed that Miguel started behaving strangely during dinner.
After several tests, they diagnose a tumor in the frontal part of the brain located on the optic nerve, and that must be operated on urgently.
We all put our hands to the head. How is it possible? What are the chances that the same person will suffer these two calamities during the same life? Life is unfair.
After hours in the operating room, a very complex open-skull operation, the extraction of a tumor the size of a golf ball, and a long recovery in which he had to relearn many things, at six months, my brother was sitting back in his Office of the University of Austin working. As the tumor left a strange void inside his skull, he likes to summarize his odyssey by saying, «I’ve always known it was a bit of a hollow head.»
My brother has been able to teach me twice in the same life that there are no adverse circumstances, only attitudes in those circumstances.
He taught me that if you have a plan and you move on it, you can accomplish anything. He taught me that having the right attitude is essential if you want to be happy, and laughing at ourselves and our problems is probably one of the most useful therapies to ward off pain, frustration, denial, and difficulties.
During an interview with my brother in a Texas newspaper, they asked him what his life would have been like if he had not had the accident. He answered something similar to this: «I do not know how my life could have been; what I do know is that we have to put everything on a scale. If today I put aside everything I think I could have done if I had not been tied to this wheelchair and on the other side, I put everything I have learned, grown, and lived after my accident, I think definitely that the balance inclines positively «.
I try to use what I learn, and that’s why every time I think about him and his stories, I can’t help but smile and end up laughing about life’s mishaps and my problems without really worrying about how many times I fall or how many times I get frustrated because someone has shut a door in my face whether it’s in business or in life. Who cares? If you keep knocking, someone will come; if you keep shouting, someone will listen. Don’t you think? Don’t let anyone take the party away from you. Don’t let anyone get in the way of your enjoyment of this gift called life.
Miguel died on September 21st, 2018, after a short battle with very aggressive pancreatic cancer. He was 56 years old. The day after knowing his diagnosis, we were talking at his house in Austin, Texas. Visibly moved, he told me: «You see, Franco, I’m not Superman.» I instantly replied to him: «Maybe you are not an immortal brother, nor is Superman immortal, but I assure you that for many of us, you are a true superhero and an example to follow.» I can only say wherever you are: Thank you, Miguel.