This I believe…
I believe in the power of one. When I was a child I was the one everyone hated, the last in line, the social pariah, the outcast. Every school has one, mysteriously chosen, fated to remain in that role throughout all the grades. In my school that one was me. As others joyfully amassed in in the hallways of our school, or clustered boisterous in the cafeteria, I was the one who read a book alone, huddled, despised, afraid. I used to wish I could fade away into nothing. Daily I contemplated suicide. By the age of eight I thought of death each evening when I went to sleep, and each morning when I woke up.
One day I realized that if I was soon to be dead anyway, I might as well speak out. After all, if one is not afraid of death, one is almost by definition fearless. Thus I learned to find my voice. I would think – I’ll be dead tomorrow anyway, how can I be afraid of uttering a few words. I learned to speak out when a classmate was rude to the “slow” child in class, or when people cut me out of the lunch-line, or when the teacher was wrong about a fact. I spoke out when no one would give a seat to an elderly person on the public bus. I started to disagree with assertions spoken in ignorance, even when the assertions were made by the blond-haired popular girls. Speaking out became something of a passion.
I never did kill myself. Somehow speaking gave me the impetus to keep going, to wake up each morning and try. I eventually got married, got a doctorate degree, and a job. And now I have a child with a disability. Having learned to speak out, I was able to demand his inclusion in school, in summer camps, in extra-curricular opportunities. Oddly, he has the inclusion I never was able to obtain. He lacks my initial fear of being different. He has a parent who speaks out. Perhaps he learned self-advocacy, or perhaps he just had it innately.
I believe in courage. Not the courage found in battlefield soldiers, but the courage to risk being different, to risk disapproval, to invite ridicule. That is perhaps the greatest courage, because we endure public scrutiny. We hazard, even dare, others to examine us in detail, to expose our differences. I believe if more people spoke out, the injustices in our world would melt away. I believe in the power of one, to assert new truths, to persuade, to sway the masses towards an inclusive world.
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