Monday, June 18, 2007

My Cousin, My Hero

An ordinary guy trying to make his way in the world. He had just figured out what he wanted to do with his twenty-three-year-old life when he was assaulted by a man late one night. He knew the man through work, and he'd gone to the man's house to reclaim some property (kindly, not a hostile act) when the man attacked him. Matthew doesn't remember anything after the first punch. The attacker, a trained martial artist, beat my cousin's head into the ground until it squished and he bled out six pints of blood . When the paramedics arrived on the scene several hours later (a long series of miracles alerted the right people), my cousin was literally on his last breath.

Matthew was immediately transported to OHSU where he spent two weeks in a coma with the left part of his skill removed so that his brain could expand unhindered. He spent three and a half months in the hospital and a rehabilitation facility before having his skull returned. He lost his sense of smell entirely. And my cousin has a scar that runs from his forehead to his neck across the top of his skull.

I think people are afraid of him at first, not knowing what to make of his scar. He keeps his hair very short, buzzed almost to the scalp. I'm sure some people wish he'd cover it... they think it's inappropriate or something and stare. He wears hats sometimes, though not at more formal events. After surviving such an assault, I think he has every right to be proud of his scar.

In the year and a half since the attack, my cousin has overcome some incredible physical challenges, and he has an amazing spirit. Matthew is not my hero because he learned how to walk again. He's not my hero because he went wakeboarding less than a year afterward even though doctors told him he'd never do that again. He's not my hero because he's getting his life back together after losing everything he'd been working toward and fought so hard to achieve. Don't get me wrong, those are astounding things to have overcome!

But that Matthew had it within him to never despair over his situation and the time he lost in his life due to the assault makes him my hero. He never gave up. In fact, a recent addition to his body was an eighteen inch tattoo down his flank saying, "Never Despair." That has to be one of the most spectacular pieces of ink I've had the honor to see. He's also my hero because he forgave his attacker and negotiated a sentence of five years in prison, far less than the guy would have received for attempted murder.

I don't have many heroes. I don't idolize others, though I may see the good in people and try to incorporate those good parts into my own life. One of the mantras I use to keep myself going when I feel I've reached my end is "never give up." My cousin didn't, and for that, he is my hero.


Thank you, Matthew, for allowing me to tell your story, for reviewing it and providing your input.


elle said...

Amazing! A man definately worthy of the title of hero!

Thank him for me too. It was just the story I needed today!

Anonymous said...

yay for matt! :)