During the Distinguished Young Women national finals, the first question I was asked in my interview was, “What has your younger brother, Cal, taught you?”. Now, anyone who has ever met my brother probably knows what a stud, star athlete and gentleman Cal is. After all, he was dubbed by one of my friends, Cissi Denton, as the most distinguished brother in America.
Growing up, we created adventures together, taping paper streamers to a ceiling fan, turning it on high and pretending we were trying to survive a tornado. We duked out arguments sparked by my sass and his stubbornness. Today, we still navigate adventures together, like when one morning on the way to school, I ignored his warnings about my speed and accidentally mowed down a massive flowerpot and uprooted all of the plants in our garden. Today, we have become the best of friends.
So, when I was asked what I had learned from my little brother, I remembered just how much I look up to my little brother, for many reasons other than our height difference.
He is one of my biggest fans
Throughout most recent years, Cal graciously sat through over 40 of my musical performances, 25 chorus concerts and seven nights of Distinguished Young Women programs. He even made a cameo performance in my senior benefit concert, stealing the show. At the Distinguished Young Women national finals, he was so nervous for me the night that I did my talent performance that he couldn’t eat anything all day, a big deal for a teenage guy. No one cheers louder for me than my little brother does, and recognizing his deep voice screaming out “Christinuuuuhhhh!” always lifts me up.
He’s also one of my toughest critics
Although he’s my biggest fan, Cal is also one of my toughest critics. Whenever I want an honest, not sugar-coated opinion, (and even when I don’t) Cal is there to give it. Whether he’s evaluating one of my peach cobblers, performances, outfits or fitness routines, he isn’t afraid to speak the truth. After seeing my fitness routine at my local Distinguished Young Women program, he patted me on the back, said, “You struggled a little there, didn’t you, honey?” and said it was time we went into training, during which, he whipped me into shape.
He reminds me how to be a kid
I oftentimes take things too seriously and Cal is always quick to tell me to lighten up. He has a refreshing outlook on life that turns failures or disappointments into comedic moments. He isn’t afraid to laugh at me when I crack on a note, and he has taught me how to laugh at myself too. Together, we can go back to being kids again, spending hours in late-night laughter as we watch The Office or Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.
He doesn’t need a spotlight to be a leader
Cal serves as a leader in everything he does even without being asked, whether through his mad skills and loyalty on his basketball team, fearlessness and enthusiasm on Wilderness Trail (a backpacking organization) or his commitment to his morals and faith. He never asks for acknowledgement and leads with a humility that is rare today. Like all guys growing up, he faces challenges. Yet, he opts out from complaining. I am always amazed by the way he bears all things with a quiet determination, simply working harder.
He is one of the bravest people I know
At first glance, you don’t realize what Cal once lived through with fierce bravery. Yet, if you look at him in the right light, you can see a scar etched into his forehead, stretching from his hair-line to his eye-brow. Ten years ago, when Cal was only five years old, my family was in a car wreck. On the way home from my grandparents house, both my brother and I were supposed to be in the car, but I had randomly decided last minute to stay an extra day with my grandparents, although my bags were already packed. On the way home, Cal and my parents stopped to eat dinner and Cal asked if, for once, he could sit on the side of the car I always sat on – behind my dad. For some reason, my dad suggested he sit in the middle, the best of both worlds.
Hours later, after a dusk rainstorm, a dimly lit, slow moving feed truck pulled into the road, causing my dad to slam on the brakes. The SUV spun, slammed into the back of the steel bedded truck and rolled over before landing in a ditch. On impact, all the windows in the vehicle shattered, sending glass flying through the SUV. Cal was struck in the face, causing a major head injury so deep that it exposed his skull and damaged, they initially feared, his left eye. The left side of the car was crushed from slamming into the truck. It was so compacted that my dad could barely get out of the driver’s seat and suffered a spinal injury. The area behind my dad, where I normally sat and Cal wanted to sit, took the brunt of the impact. If either my brother or I had been seated on that side of the car, we would have most likely been killed.
There were many miracles that night, as people appeared out of nowhere in the darkness following the wreck, including an Emergency Medical Technician who saw the accident as he was returning home from another accident, and an optometrist, who just happened upon the wreckage scene soon after to see if he could help. He looked at Cal and assured my mom and dad that Cal hadn’t lost his eye.
Later, under the skilled hands of a plastic surgeon, who miraculously happened to be on call at this particular hospital that night, Cal endured hours of painful waiting, shots, and more than 60 stitches to put his face back together. All the while, selfless as always, he assured my heartbroken dad, that the accident wasn’t his fault. Just a little boy then, he was brave and understanding beyond his years. As usual, he was able to create laughter and humanity in the midst of hurt. When my dad explained that they would wait until the next morning, rent a car and drive the rest of the way home, Cal asked quietly, “Dad? Do you think it would be ok if mom drives home?”
As the years pass and blur this memory like a black and white photograph, it becomes easier to forget that I almost lost my little brother. Without Cal by my side, I don’t know how I would’ve survived those paper streamer tornadoes, the anticipation of Santa’s arrival every Christmas Eve, the killer fitness routines or the disappointment I first feel whenever I mess up. I will never cease to be grateful to God for watching over my little brother and giving him all of these years to share more of his heart with the rest of the world.
Christina Maxwell is a college freshman at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan majoring in Musical Theatre. Originally from Asheville , North Carolina, Christina was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of North Carolina for 2012 and the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2012. Learn more about Christina here!