I was always known as a “wild child” in my younger years. At age one, the divorce of my parents left me without the perfect family every child yearns for. My dad moved half way across the world to Vietnam never to be heard from again, and my mom was constantly working to support us both. As a kid, I was constantly getting sent to the principal’s office. Always getting myself into trouble, I was often told that I had no respect for authority. From my own perspective, I basically felt that I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and however I wanted. This juvenile rebelliousness would later change within the next few years of my life.
It started in seventh grade:
“Phil, your mom is on the phone,” my friend handed me his house phone.
It was odd because it was about midnight, and my parents would never call at such a late hour. I picked up the phone, anticipating that I was in some sort of trouble.
Immediately after uttering word, I was answered by my aunt, “Your mom just gave birth. I’ll come pick you up first thing tomorrow.”
Although I was happy, I was also surprised because my sister wasn’t expected to arrive for another two months.
We got to the hospital the next morning to see how my mom and my new-born sister, Catherine, were doing. Upon entering the room, I was required to put on a face mask and thoroughly wash my hands. I walked over and saw my baby sister. Her entire body could fit in the palm of my hand. She was lying in an incubator, with IV tubes going into her arm and more into her nostrils. Born two months premature, she needed the tubes to survive and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The condition, which affects a child’s control of motor skills, made her muscles stiff, resulting in movement difficulties. When I first saw my baby sister, I knew right away that she wasn’t going to be able to climb as fast as she could across the monkey bars, swing as high as she could on the swings, or run around all over the playground. She just wasn’t going to be like every other careless, fun-loving kid at school.
The birth of my sister made me realize how fortunate I really was. To this day, at age eight, my sister can not yet walk, but almost every day undergoes physical therapy in order to develop her motor skills so that one day she will be able to. Although under these circumstances, I have never seen my sister in a gloomy mood. Always enthusiastic, it is truly amazing that although she has gone through so much at such a young age, she is always in such high spirits.
When I reflect on my own life, and things don’t seem too great at the moment, I look at my sister. I look at her and I realize that no matter what life hands you, you have to take it head-on and positively. I’ve learned that you should never take things for granted and that you should make the best out of any opportunity—whether it be in school, sports, or simply reaching out to new people. Life is too short to just not care. For the sake of my sister and for own my conscience, I have learned to dedicate myself to everything that really matters to me. Because of my sister Catherine, I believe in the power of perseverance.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.