Sink or Swim?

A tribute to the life of my brother, Jethro Daniel (10th Dec 1995- 19th July 2015). 

My brother Jethro. My partner in crime. My telepathy twin. My little baby brother. There is so much that I can say about his life but I want to share with you some thoughts from his life that have most impacted mine. People who know me well know that I struggle the most with making decisions. I often am so scared of choosing that I make no choice at all. But, as I have grown up I have seen the choices Jethro has made in his life and I have realized that we all need to make choices.Preferably, the right choices because they can change our lives completely. It is evident how the choices Jethro has made have changed his life and the lives of so many other people in this world.

“In life you can only sink or swim. There is no other option.” You can either drown due to life’s circumstances or make the choice to swim. We are faced with choices every day. Choices that can make or break our lives. Life gives us a lot of turning points and we are given the freedom to choose which direction we want our lives to go- to the bottom of the ocean or above the waters towards the light.

Just have a look at your lives. I know, It’s hard to choose to swim sometimes. It’s hard because you get tired, or lonely, or you feel that life isn’t fair. But, every day when we get up, we are faced with the same choices- Sink or swim? The situations all of you are facing are different, varying in intensity and difficulty. But, all of us have the same two choices- Sink or swim? What have you been choosing lately?

Just have a look at my brother’s life. It was a hard life. There is no doubt about that. For the 19 years of his life, he couldn’t do the things that we take for granted. He couldn’t hug the people he loved. He couldn’t swim in the water he so enjoyed. He couldn’t call out in pain. He couldn’t get up and walk out of the room. He couldn’t pick up the phone if it was ringing. He couldn’t even go to the restroom on his own.  He just couldn’t do anything physically.

But, look at his life closely. Many of you have been closely associated with him or have seen his documentary so you will know this to be true. He was never seen without a smile on his face. In fact, sometimes when he was thinking seriously I would go up to him and say ‘Jethro, Smile na. It’s weird when you don’t smile’ and he would look at me and give me the biggest grin or the cutest smile ever. His smile made my day and I am sure many of yours as well. His smile showed that he took his limitations in his stride. He accepted them as a part of who he was. They did not define who he was, he never let it. But, it was a part of his life and he accepted it. His smile was testimony to that fact.

Jethro accepted his limitations and instead of sinking in the ocean of anger, self-pity, sadness and hopelessness, he swam. He swam with all he had. He swam against the strong waves of pain, against the loud noises of people saying that he would be just a ‘vegetable’, against the limitations his body put him under, he swam despite the pain he might have endured. He swam and that is why he smiled. That is why he laughed. That is why he lived a life that today all of us are here to pay tribute to. He chose to swim. Are we making that choice?

It would have been very easy for Jethro to decide, even after accepting his circumstances that he had been handed the short end of the stick in life so all he needed to do was to get through life somehow. Just get through each and every day doing the bare minimum, after all, what more can you expect from a boy who can’t even walk or talk. But, he chose differently. He decided to reflect on his own contribution and purpose in life and chose to live a life fulfilling that purpose.

Our destiny is so much bigger than what we think it is. So big that if we do not spend time reflecting and thinking about what we could offer the world, we will tend to get swept by the wave of life and by the people around us and live life forever in the shallows, doing the bare minimum. Getting up in the morning, going to office, working the least we can, coming back home, watching Television and going to sleep. Is it a comfortable life? Yes, it is. Will it make you satisfied? No, trust me, it won’t. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow.  but someday you will realize something missing  in life and on that day you will regret the choices that you did not make, the opportunities that you did not make the most of and even the struggles that you gave up on because it had become too hard. Jethro did not give up. He once again made the choice to swim instead of sink and swim he did and his contribution through his trusts, his poems and his visionary ideas is evident for all to see.

I am sure his life was not a struggle free life. On a daily basis he had to struggle with his body not cooperating with him, with the frustrations of not being able to do the things he wished to do, with the aches and pains that are a normal part of children facing these medical conditions. Sitting for long hurt his back. His hips were twisted and slowly getting deformed. He was tall but couldn’t hold up his body. The hunching over would have hurt him. And this was just physically.

Emotionally, there could have been thoughts of insecurity, bitterness or irritation. But Jethro never dwelt on any of these. He never gave up and He chose not to focus on his problems and turned his focus outward to the world around him. It would have seemed easier to give up and say, ‘That’s it. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t take it anymore’.   It would have been easier for him to just lie down and watch movies all day and not think of anything else or anybody else except himself. But he didn’t make that choice of giving up. He chose to swim. He chose to live an abundant life despite the struggles because he knew that the struggles he faced made him a unique individual. The struggles he faced had molded him into the person he was meant to be, and he didn’t want to give up on his destiny just for a few moments of so called happiness. Are we making that choice? Or are we too tired of life and in the quest to just be happy for once in our lives, are we make the wrong choices?

My parents themselves had a choice to make many years ago when they first found out about Jethro’s conditions. They chose to believe that there was a reason that Jethro was given to them and they took it in their stride to make the most of this gift that was given to them. They did not grumble and ask- why me? They did not become angry at Jethro for the hindrance his condition might have brought to their lives. Their lives revolved around him but that did not give them a feeling of losing out on life. That was a choice that they made, to look deeper than what was evident to others. They could have given up in frustration like many others do in similar circumstances.- leaving the child at an orphanage. I clearly remember my first visit to an orphanage near Pune and how when we had gone to visit, the kids thought that we were leaving Jethro there. It filled me with astonishment and anger even in my young age. How could they even think such a thing?, I wondered. But, they had seen it happening so many times that it was normal for them. My parents did not choose the easy way out. They chose the hard way. They chose to swim. That choice gave Jethro the hope that he needed and in that loving environment he thrived and was able to express his creativity.

My brother was my best friend. More than the people who I call best friend, he knew me inside out. He knew all my secrets, my fears and my dreams. He knew what made me laugh and what made me cry. Jethro and I have shared a love for a lot of similar things over the years. Our love for God. Our love for music. Our love for Shahrukh Khan movies. Our love for dancing. Our love for the rains. Our love for long drives. Our love for fast cars. Our love for adventure. Our time together was spent talking about what we would do together in life.We used to watch movies, move to music, stay up late into the night, and do all the things that a brother sister duo would do. That was my choice and his too. The choice to enjoy life to the fullest, the choice to be friends to each other and be there for each other no matter what, the choice to not consider his physical limitations as a limitation to the love that we shared. We did not sink. We swam and what an amazing 19 year journey it was.

His life shaped my life in so many ways that it is impossible to list down everything but I know that the most important way he has shaped my life is to teach me to swim, despite circumstances, despite situations, despite people and despite society. He taught me to swim because sinking is just too easy and that is not what life is meant to be.

So, once again I leave you with this question-Sink or swim? What are you choosing today?

  Rhoda & Jethro