I believe in a child’s strength. My nephew is 10 years old; he has cerebral palsy. Although he is only 10, he already possesses the strength of a grown man, albeit one who likes a good fart joke. His strength is not necessarily muscular, though he does have a menacing head lock, it is more the kind that gets him on the bus to school everyday despite the fact that his disability is more apparent now than ever—that he glaringly stands apart. His strength is the kind that keeps him laughing and smiling even when, out of the corner of his ear, he hears someone use the word “retarded.” A word that he knows cruelly implies his own limitations.
His strength grows from his own limitations and their requirement for patience, tolerance, and dependence. It is, however, complemented by his uninhibited curiosity for independence—to explore what he shouldn’t or “can’t” do, things like hiking across a running creek or walking down stairs unassisted. He’s 10 and already has the wisdom to anticipate the disappointments that life will hold but charmingly approaches them with the immaturity of a child—unable to see the whole picture in his mind.
His strength comes from a dark and beautiful place where optimism and pessimism do constant battle, where regrets are innumerable yet meaningless, and where a day at the park is riddled with challenges. He’s strong because he isn’t aware that weakness is an option, because the simple task of brushing his teeth requires a level of dexterity he barely possesses, and because at age 10, he’s had to come to terms with the death of a mother he’ll never know, my sister.
He’s strong because he needs a straw to drink his soda when the other kids go straight from the can, because becoming “King of the Mountain” requires a lot of assistance, and because freeze tag will never be his game. He’s strong for the way he asks politely to try things on his own, like walking off a curb, and for the many hours he spends dealing with his own deficiencies, directly and indirectly.
He makes me stronger with his guts, fortitude, and goofy laughter, for his ability to roll with the punches and emotionally deal with life’s current letdowns and those unforeseen. His impish vitality brings out in adults that which they forgot existed —that playful part of you that knows better but can’t help yourself—at the same time his plight elicits that very adult part of you that must instantly come to terms with the complexities of this boy’s life.
The strength of a child is contagious, for this I believe.
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