Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Brotherly Love

A guest post from Jay Dunlap, President of the Madonna School

I remember that, as a kid, I had to figure out why one of my older brothers was different. Being the sixth of twelve kids, I had a lot to figure out about the personalities in the household, but Pat was unique. He was quiet; he went to different schools for something they called “special education”; he had unique habits like swinging his arms and making a kind of groan – the sound of releasing nervous energy, as I look back on it.

I wanted to figure out how to relate to my mysterious brother. As a dumb little kid, I did what I could to get a rise out of him:

 I found that if I chased him with a dull butter knife, he went from being quiet and calm to excited and running in fear. It was comical, but it also wasn’t right. I stopped doing that and looked for better ways to break through with Pat.

Over time, I found that I could read with him. His interests reflected the scope of his life: families, neighborhoods, and church. When he reached adolescence and became more outgoing, his conversations with people would lead with inquiries about who a person’s aunts and uncles were and where they lived, the color of their houses (with emphasis on the contrasting color of the shutters), and where they went to church. When Pat and I read together, his primary interest was our Archdiocesan newspaper, the Catholic Voice, especially the annual issue listing which priests were switching parishes and where they would move. To this day, Pat’s memory is like a 500 gigabyte database of what priests have served where, and he is remarkably prescient with predictions of where they will be assigned next. Perhaps Archbishop Lucas should hire him as a consultant.

Getting inside of Pat’s world helped me know and love him. We were able to connect in ways that suited his interests and abilities. Increasingly, my siblings and I came to see Pat’s special qualities not as a handicap but as what made him so loveable – in many ways the center of love among all twelve of us. He was the best man at my wedding; I named my first son after him. And now, as President of Madonna School and Workshop, I serve a mission I love because of the special brother I love. As with so many who have a “special needs” person in the family, my relationship with Pat opened my mind and heart to what makes us unique, fascinating, and loveable. In our students and Workshop clients, I look for the same kind of uniqueness, and find people who are so very loveable.

It’s often said that “you never work a day in your life” if you get to do something you love. Madonna’s service to individual with cognitive and developmental challenges is a mission I love. Because I learned to love Pat.

© Jay Dunlap

Now it's your turn - who inspires your work? Why do you choose to support the Madonna School mission?

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