There are two flights of wine sitting on the wrought iron table in front of me. From left to right is a white, a rose’ and two reds. The bright red umbrella sticking up through the table is folded down on account of the windy day, but the early May sun’s rays are strong enough to make it an incredibly beautiful day in the Shenandoah Valley. I sit with my feet up soaking in the beauty of the winery and surrounding area as my youngest brother, Matthias sits across from me. He has been reminiscing about the yearly trips he made every summer up to Cape Cod with the family while he was growing up. There’s a slight smile on his face as he remembers the beaches of the ocean or the sound, trips out to Martha’s Vineyard, and especially the best little pizza spots he’s ever been to. I enjoy listening to him recall his childhood.
Matthias and I have been making “man dates” a priority whenever I visit my parents in Virginia. We either venture to a winery or to a brewery to catch up with each other. It’s been wonderful getting to know him more over the past few years. The 19 year age difference between us made it difficult to know him in his younger life. I was already out of the house doing my own thing when he was born. I was busy raising my own family when he was still in grade school.
As we talk and enjoy the day, I think about how he sees the same things I’m seeing. I will never actually know. His vision was greatly affected by the series of seizures that rocked his small body at birth. He really shouldn’t even be alive to be honest. But Matthias is one of those people who beats the odds and overcomes. He gets back up on the horse when knocked off of it. What really sets him apart is that he has had to do this his whole life right out of the gate – EVERY SINGLE DAY.
I don’t have too many pet peeves . Actually, that’s not true. I probably have more than most. I tend to hold myself to very high standards so I just expect the same of others. One thing I can’t stand is people who whine or complain; especially people who have zero reason to be whining or complaining. Matthias rarely does either. He’s the kind of person who knows that doing either is simply a waste of time and energy. And it’s annoying. The irony is that he probably has more of a right to whine or complain than most. His entire life has been nothing but overcoming. In grade school, he struggled to pay attention, to learn, and to just fit in. The seizures he suffered at birth made it difficult for him to see, process things and focus. But it didn’t stop him. In fact, he excels in certain areas that others are illiterate in. He’s a geography whiz. He led his Geography Bee team to two victories in 7th and 8th grade. Most people struggle just to find their own state on a map. Matthias also accomplished something very few do. He earned the rank of Eagle Scout – an achievement that less than 8% of Boy Scouts accomplish. Against all odds, he graduated from the same alma mater as myself, Riverheads High School, in 2009. For the past seven years, Mathias has held a job at an upscale hotel in Staunton, VA. Not being able to drive doesn’t stop him. He walks to his place of employment from the house that he bought with another brother. He knows the value of hard work and doesn’t like being idle.
In the past couple of years, as my parents have gotten older, he has become an extraordinary help on their farm. He has learned the in’s and out’s of caring for the horse, the sheep and the goats. He knows how to rotate the animals to different fields. He has been learning to operate the various pieces of equipment on the farm – equipment that can be dangerous if taken lightly.
Matthias has been and will continue to be on medications to control his seizures his whole life. He has lost over 80 pounds in the past few years and goes to his local YMCA four days a week to lift weights and to “do his pull-ups”. He lives a simple but good life. He understands the things that are important and is thankful for a supportive and loving family.
As we finish up our flights of wine, I think about the young man sitting across from me. I think about the challenges and obstacles that he has overcome. I wonder how he sees me – literally and figuratively – his oldest brother. I know how I see him. He’s amazing. He’s resilient. He’s mighty miracle man Matthias.