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Tammy – My Hero

     They’ve always called Tammy handicapped – we called her special.

     It was frustrating at times to have the rules be different for me than they were for her. That’s difficult to come to terms with as a child. If I complained, my father would just say, “Tammy’s special” and that was the end of discussion. She was my father’s angel, and, man did she revel in it! If there was something on your plate she wanted, she’d reach over, grab it with her hand, and slap it onto her plate – all the while glaring at you as she said, “I’m special!” She knew we couldn’t say anything, because my father was at the table.
     She was special, but I didn’t really appreciate just how special until years later. Sure, I loved my sister – I would protect and defend her to the ends of the earth, but that’s just because she was my sister.
     As a kid, I would rail against people, “She’s not handicapped, she’s neurologically impaired!” God help you if you called her retarded. As I got a bit older, I considered the terms more carefully. “Neurologically impaired” really didn’t say much of anything at all. If someone is severely retarded or has a recurring muscle twitch, the person can be referred to as “neurologically impaired.” If someone is handicapped, that implies to me that the person has a cap, or limit, on their handiness – that a person’s ability to function in the social framework we have constructed is more limited than most. That’s Tammy.
     She will sometimes have difficulty grasping some of the more complex theories and concepts we have conjured up – but so do many people I know. She may take a little longer to learn some things than the average person does, but she generally learns it better than most. Tammy’s handicap is not one of mental capacity as much as it is social.

     Quite simply, she was, and still is, incapable of lying. It just isn’t in her nature.

     When we were children, it was convenient. We didn’t have much money, but once in a while we would get the special treat of going out to dinner. My mother would let Tammy in on the surprise and tell her to keep it secret from the rest of us. She would come running in, singing, “I have a secret. I have a secret – and I can’t tell you…” It usually wasn’t terribly difficult to figure out her secret.
     “Are we going to Grandma’s house?”
     “NooOoo.”
     “Are we going to the park?”
     “NoOOoo.”
     “Are we going out to dinner?”
     “I can’t tell you.”
     “Are we going to Kentucky Fried Chicken?”
     “NoOoOo.”
     “Are we going to Burger King?”
     “NoooOO.”
     “Are we going to McDonald’s?”
     “I can’t tell you.”
     Eventually, Tammy stopped telling us she had a secret, and instead would just skip around quietly, looking like the cat who swallowed the canary.

     We teach our children that lying is wrong. We tell them that liars never get ahead. In the world we have created, however, lying is encouraged and even rewarded. In fact, being honest can make living in our world significantly more difficult. Whether we lie to save money on taxes, or to spare someone else’s feelings from the truth (or more honestly, spare ourselves from having to face the uncomfortable situation of being frank about something difficult). We water down, soften or massage the truth in business dealings every day – sugar coating the truth has even become the “politically correct” thing to do. In many contexts, honesty is considered to be downright rude. We tell someone how beautiful her hairstyle is, how much we like his latest book, how adorable the new baby is… We live duplicitous lives in many aspects – from where we shop to what lying politicians get our votes. We assuage our guilt by blathering on about the complexities of the world and the difficulty of maintaining integrity in today’s world and so on – we lie to ourselves. When our children realize the truth of the world around them and the truth about us, what conclusions should they come to?

     For Tammy, it’s quite simple – lying is wrong. Do the right thing, even if it’s hard to do. Don’t do the wrong thing, even if it hurts.
     What’s the difference between right and wrong? Equally simple: how much your actions hurt others.

     You don’t break promises. You do this by not making promises you can’t keep.

     Tammy watched my father drink most of the people he loved out of his life – including her. Drinking alcohol is wrong, because it can hurt the people you love. Because of this, Tammy does not drink. Not a drop. Not ever. She doesn’t judge those who do, either. She’s been to the bar with me – she had a soda. She even bought me Homer Simpson bottle openers for my birthday this year. It would be wrong for her to try and force my life decisions upon me. Besides, I’m not an alcoholic, so my drinking is not hurting those around me. She finally ejected my father from her life, not because of the alcohol, but because of the never-ending string of disappointments he left in his wake. He hurt her too many times and she grew tired of giving him more opportunities to do it again. My father’s drinking drove him to continually break his promises to the one person who was most precious to him in the world. If that's what alcohol can do to a person, Tammy is unwilling to take that risk.

     She found a twenty dollar bill on the floor in the supermarket, so she handed it in at the customer service desk. My mother told her that the person behind the desk will probably keep it herself. “Maybe, but it’s not mine, so I can’t keep it.” If Tammy worked at the service desk and someone turned in money they found, she would keep it safe, just in case the person who lost it came asking. If she lost money in the store, she would go to the service desk, hoping someone found it. Because of this, she had no option at all, other than to turn that money in at the service desk and hope for the best.

     Tammy is handicapped because her ability to succeed and prosper in the social structure we have built is limited. She will likely never be a successful businessperson, salesperson or politician. She wears her emotions on her sleeve, never lies and never pretends to be something she’s not.
     I am unbelievably blessed to have Tammy as a sister, and it makes me happy every time I think about it. Her handicap doesn’t sadden me – what saddens me is that more people aren’t like Tammy. Honesty shouldn’t be the handicap, lying should.
     I look up to my big sister and strive daily to be more like her. She’s one of my greatest heroes. I base my measure of success not on how much money I earn or what position I hold, rather on how proud Tammy can be of my actions.

November 24, 2010, 06:08:50 am

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