Growing up with my younger sister may be an experience not everyone can say they understand. My earliest memories of my sister fall somewhere between “Mom can we leave her at the hospital” and “Give me back my Pooh-Bear toy” (my sister is less than three years younger than me, so bless my parents for dealing with two toddlers) as many younger siblings often say. But she was born different. My sister was born with moderate/severe cerebral palsy; caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain during birth, it affects motor skills and muscle development. Cerebral palsy, as a doctor once joked, is the Cadillac of disabilities. Though it hinders Karlie’s mobility and communication, it is not degenerative and she has a normal life expectancy. It is not without its set of challenges she uses a wheelchair and is non-verbal (uses devices and adaptive signs to talk).
Today is national Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day, a day that always provides me with an opportunity to pause and reflect on just it means to means to me. To some, it seems like it could be the most devastating thing that could happen. But to my family, we have taken this in stride. Not only has Karlie brightened our lives, but also she does this for most people that encounter her.
Karlie has taught me what it means to not judge someone. I cannot imagine living a life where “how” a person was born, effects my opinion of them. Why judge people on the things that are simply out of their control? Learning about the disabled community, and their struggle has made me extremely aware of all daily struggles. I therefore have become someone who has always had compassion for the disadvantaged or disassociate from societal norms. If society treats you like less of a person, I guarantee it will pull on my heartstrings. My sister is a constant reminder that a person, no matter the abilities, can be the most important person of all.
The joy she has for the simplest things in life, reminds me to live in the moment more and to worry less. She helps me sit back and reflect on the important things in life: The ability to walk and do the things that I take for granted, for example. I forget about the type of person I want others to see me as, when I’m with her. I don’t have to be the perfect person and never make a mistake. I can be goofy or dorky or not wear makeup. It doesn’t matter, she’s still excited to see me, still asks when her “KayKay” is coming to visit. It doesn’t matter the extreme anxiety and depression the plagues me day in and day out, it’s always comforting to be able to be around a person who will unconditionally love you.
With every race Karlie is pushed in, she makes me realize I can chase after my own passions. Nothing is too small or out of reach. I have the abilities to do what I desire most in this world and she has helped me realize that yes I can. The daily struggles of having to overcome barriers is something I have seen her as well as my parents’ deal with over the course of our lives together. I want to do things to honor her, or that would make her proud. I’m doing things now that I never thought I could ever do. Much like myself, Karlie is doing great things we never realized she could. Our parents have supported every crazy dream and activity to let us live our lives to the fullest, for that I am so thankful.
I ask everyone, today, to take the time to tell someone how much they mean to you especially someone differently abled. Never take someone for granted, as the memories and moments you share with someone who is not that different from my sister are the moments they treasure most. I love my sister because of the things she has given me throughout my life are who she has shaped me to be as a person. After all, the greatest things in life are not material things but the love we carry inside of us and the kindness we show to each.