One fall, I volunteered at a school for the blind during a three month study abroad trip to Mexico. Each week, I spent three hours in a third grade class, working with a little girl named Kate who had Down syndrome. After a while we became special friends. We practiced writing letters and coloring inside the lines. She whispered secrets to me and I taught her how to “high five”.
Sometimes I couldn’t understand what she was saying because of the language barrier or because of her struggle to verbally communicate. But I could always tell what she was feeling. Whether we were smiling about the boy across the table or crying from being frustrated about schoolwork, I could always rely on the universal language of emotion to connect us.
Kate’s unconditional love left an imprint on my heart; one that travelled with me to my next destination, Nicaragua. There, I visited historical sites and met with important political figures. However, the most influential visits I made were those in which I got to interact with the “real” people of Nicaragua. The pivotal point in my journey was my visit to the city’s capital garbage dump.
I remember empathetically listening to the guide tell me about the life of the children living in the dump. I remember feeling my heart break and a few small tears trickle down my cheek. I remember the pain radiating from the eyes of the small girl sitting next to me. But what I remember most vividly is her beaming smile and the embrace we shared before parting our ways. Because of this exchange we became a small part of each other’s life. She may not remember me but I will never lose the image of her beautiful brown face engulfed in my silver sunglasses.
I believe in the universal language of smiles, hugs, and tears. I believe we become a little more human when we embrace and feel the heartbeat of another. I believe we can show compassion and forgiveness through the touch of an arm or the exchange of a knowing smile. No matter what nationality or physical ability, we are all human and speak a universal language through our emotions. And when we have someone to share a little bit of our life with, whether we are together for two hours, three months, or a lifetime, I believe we are all connected by these things that make us human.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.