For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted a brother—someone to play with and talk to, someone to share hiding places and cookies with. I can’t count the number of times I asked Heavenly Father if He would please, please send a little brother to our house. So when I found that my mother was going to have a baby, I was overjoyed. I knew it was going to be a brother. I just knew it. And I was right!
Daniel Benjamin was born kicking and screaming on February 14. For a while we called him our special valentine, then just Benny. I got to hold him when he was only three days old, and I was so proud that I nearly popped the buttons right off my shirt! Lots of days, I rocked him in the rocking chair after school. Sometimes I told him about things at school, but most of the time I sang to him. Mom said I was a lot of help, and Dad said I was a great brother.
When the snow melted and the tulips came up, I was allowed to take him outside and push him in his stroller. I was given a new baseball mitt for my birthday, and I let Benny try it on, but he just chewed on it. “When you get big enough, I’m going to teach you to be the best shortstop ever,” I told him. Every day I showed him new things and waited for him to get old enough to play with me. But he never did.
He did get bigger and stronger. He learned to roll over and sit up and finally to walk. But something was wrong. Sometimes he sat on the floor for hours, staring into space and rocking back and forth. I tried to teach him to play with blocks and to roll a ball, but he just pushed the ball away. The blocks he lined up on the windowsill over and over again, always exactly the same way. If I tried to move them, he screamed and kicked. When I talked to him, he looked right through me as if I weren’t there. Mom and Dad tried over and over to get him to say “Mama” or “Daddy”—anything at all—but he just popped his thumb into his mouth and looked away. Once in a while he let Mom or Dad hug him, but whenever I put my arms around him, he pushed me away. That made me feel really sad.
By the time Benny was two years old, Mom and Dad had taken him to nearly every doctor around, but nobody seemed to know what was wrong. Finally they took him to a big hospital far away to see a special kind of doctor. He said that Benny was severely autistic. That meant that he might never be able to talk, or play with me, or be in Cub Scouts, or do any of the things that regular brothers do.
The more I thought about it, the worse I felt. There was a big, empty place somewhere inside me, and an aching that wouldn’t go away. I guess Mom could tell I was hurting, because one day when I was sitting on the couch, she came over and sat beside me. “Want to talk?” she asked quietly.
For a minute I just kept looking out the window; then I swallowed hard and looked up. “Mom, does Heavenly Father really love us?”
“Of course He does,” she answered, putting her arm around me.
“Well, sometimes … sometimes I wonder. Why did Heavenly Father let Benny be autistic? Doesn’t He love Benny?”
“Yes, David,” Mom said, pulling me closer. “Benny is very special to Heavenly Father, just as you are. But I know how sad and confused you must feel, because sometimes I feel that way too. But sad times happen to everyone. They’re part of living. And learning. They can teach us things we never knew before—things about ourselves and about what’s really important in life. Even though they’re painful, these times can help us grow.”
“But Benny’s the only brother I have,” I said, blinking to keep the tears from falling.
“Wait here a minute.” Mom stood up and left the room. When she came back, she had something in her hand. “I want to tell you about another Brother, a Brother who loves you and cares about you and who will help you and be a Friend to you all your life.”
She held out a small picture of the Savior. “Our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, knows how sad we sometimes feel. Sad things happened to Him too. But He has given us a reason to have hope and to live our lives with joy.”
I didn’t see how I could ever feel really happy again, but I kept listening.
“We have a great opportunity to follow the Savior’s example by loving Benny and helping him in a kind and patient way. Sometimes it will be hard, and we’ll get discouraged. But if we keep trying, we’ll grow to love Benny more and more. And we’ll become more like Jesus.”
“I already love Benny a lot,” I told Mom, “so I guess I’m already a little like Jesus.”
Mom nodded and gave me an extra squeeze. Then she told me something I’ll never forget. “Because Jesus loved us so much, He made it possible for us to be resurrected. Do you know what that means?”
“I think I do. It means that when we die, we won’t have our bodies for a while, but then we’ll have them again.”
Mom nodded. “And in the resurrection there will be no crippled bodies or minds. Can you imagine what that means?”
For a long moment I didn’t answer. I was thinking of things I had never imagined before, and a warm feeling was growing inside of me, crowding out the empty, aching place. I looked at Mom. “It means that someday Benny will know me! He’ll talk to me and be my friend and hug me back.”
“Yes,” Mom answered. “And he will love you for all you’ve done for him.”
For a few minutes Mom and I sat there, thinking our own thoughts. Then I went to Benny’s room. He was sitting on the floor in a pool of sunshine, rocking silently back and forth. I knelt beside him, and for a while I just looked at him. His soft hair glistened in the sunlight, but his eyes were empty and far away.
“I love you, Benny,” I said softly. “And Jesus loves you too. We’ll always be your friends, because that’s what brothers are for.” I put my arms around Benny’s shoulders, and for just the smallest moment he stopped rocking and let me hold him.