Ayn Rand Thinks He's a Parasite, But My Brother Kevin Contributes Greatly to Our Society
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At my father's funeral, the presiding minister, Ebb Munden, was a man who had been one of my dad's closest friends. Ebb talked about how the last time he had gone to see my dad before he lost consciousness, he had been very emotional, but that my dad had comforted him by gripping his hand and telling him it would be all right; that he was at peace and Ebb should be, too. The lesson was that even at our physically weakest, we could still help other people and make things better in the world.
I was thinking of that this past weekend when I went to see my brother Kevin back home in Lincoln, Nebraska. Kevin is one of those people whom followers of Ayn Rand's philosophy would call a leech on society. Rand believed that people with disabilities were leeches and parasites on society, and that the “parasites should perish.” Kevin’s birth father broke a chair over his head and gave him brain damage, so he is developmentally disabled and has difficulty speaking clearly. He came to my family when we were both 11 years old, and has been not only my brother but one of my closest friends ever since. As an adult in recent years, his body has continued to betray him as he is hard of hearing, can't see well, and has muscular dystrophy. Recently, he had to go into the hospitial for major surgery and then developed pneumonia – his muscular dystrophy makes it especially tough to recover from all this.
For all of that, though, Kevin still contributes to the world around him, just as he always has. He has always shown great tenderness to the people around him, and still does. He can't talk right now because he is on a ventilator, but his expressive hands still say a great deal. After I was watching him go through strenuous rehab exercises, I came over to him after he was done and asked how he was doing, and he just grinned and patted me on my too-big tummy, not only telling me he was okay, but that maybe I should be doing more exercise, too. Even with all the tubes attached to him, he was still up for playing catch with a plastic ball in his room. He still had smiles for, and played ball with, a 5-year-old girl who came to see him.
One of the nurses at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital told me how touched she had been when Kevin gave her a hug even though she was doing painful rehab exercises she knew he didn't like. He still gave me all kinds of trouble, taking delight in showing me two stuffed dogs people had given him because he had named the big dog Kevin and the little dog Mike. When I had to leave to go the airport and had tears in my eyes as I was leaning down to hug him goodbye, he rubbed my head to comfort me. I had come to comfort him in his time of pain, and he had comforted me even more. Kevin being a part of my life has been such a gift to me, and has made me 100 times better a person.
Kevin has also shaped my values and philosophy of life, and given me a perspective on policy issues. Conservatives are obsessed with the idea that somewhere, somehow there are lazy “undeserving” welfare recipients, but more than 90 percent of government support dollars go to the elderly, people working hard but still below the poverty line because of low-wage jobs, and very disabled people like Kevin – those whose middle-class families like mine would be plunged into poverty if we had to pay for all their medical costs on our own.