I wrote in the last post that I wanted “a window into [my brother’s] mind and heart.” As I lay down to read before going to sleep last night, I came across a poem by Eamon Grennan, an Irish poet who taught at Vassar.

The poem is entitled, “Bat” and it was inspired by the author’s experience of having a bat fly into his home unexpectedly. (It’s part of Relations, which you can find here.) Grennan writes about how, when the bat finally escapes (after frantically flitting across the room) the animal is…

“showing rightly

the likes of us

how to behave

in a tight corner:

Keep quiet

keep moving

try everything

more than once


by glancing touches


the fleeting grace

of dark advances

quick retreats

till you find

in your way

with no warning

the window



Since my brother Willie has autism, his thoughts are often a mystery to me. As such, I look for sudden windows into his mind and heart. I pay attention. I know better than to know what to expect, but I keep trying.

I remember a time one such ‘window’ opened: during the long-ago era when Willie was obsessed with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He had all seven stuffed dwarfs, and he loved to line them up in a row. He referred to himself as ‘Grumpy’ or ‘Happy’ depending on his mood.

In hindsight, I realize that the film was probably an excellent way for him to learn about identifying emotion, since each dwarf is typecast and consistent in facial expression throughout the story.

One day, my parents asked him, “Willie, if you’re Happy (he was Happy that day), who is Mommy?” For reasons inexplicable, Willie replied, “Mommy is Bashful!” Now, Mommy is not bashful. However, Bashful is a very thoughtful, kind dwarf, so perhaps this was behind the choice.

My mom then asked, “And who is Daddy?” Willie said, “Daddy is Doc!” This choice seems a bit more logical. My father wears glasses, has a calm, direct way of expressing himself. He has a quirky sense of humor, and he’s a natural leader.

Finally, my mom asked, “And who is your sister, Caroline?” With no hesitation, Willie said, “Caroline is Snow White!”

So there you have it. To my brother, I’m a Disney princess. He may not be able to say things like, “Caroline, I look up to you,” or “Caroline, I’m glad you’re my sister,” but he can cast me in a starring role in the movie in his mind.

I may not be able to see all I’d like to see of my brother’s mind and heart.  But what I can see is astonishing. He’s creative, and hilarious, and generous with his casting. Maybe, just maybe, I can only see in part because to see fully would be too much to bear.

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  1. Danette March 13, 2011 at 8:38 PM - Reply

    Absolutely beautiful post! So well written and your love for your brother is felt to the core of the reader’s heart!!

  2. […] The post linked on S-O-S today is, “with no warning/the window’ (loving my brother, part 2)”. […]

  3. Sue March 24, 2011 at 11:15 AM - Reply

    Your love for your brother shines throughout this post. Thank you for showing this love by showing us a piece of your family history that exhibits his love for all of you.

    • Caroline McGraw March 24, 2011 at 12:12 PM - Reply

      You’re most welcome, Sue! Thank you for your comment ~ this is a favorite post for me, because through this story I feel his love as well. Thanks again!

  4. […] McGraw presents ‘with no warning/the window’ (loving my brother, part 2) posted at A wish come clear: how to see disability as opportunity. Caroline provides not only a […]

  5. […] McGraw presents ‘with no warning/the window’ (loving my brother, part 2) posted at A wish come clear. Caroline provides not only a unique perspective as a sister to a […]

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