This I Believe

Elizabeth - Miami, Florida
Entered on March 14, 2008
Age Group: Under 18
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This I Believe

I believe that in listening to those who are least able to communicate, I can learn the most. While working as a teacher’s aide at Children’s Resources Fund School for children with physical, mental, and behavioral disabilities, I learned to listen and communicate in an entirely different way. The children with whom I spent my summer days changed me forever. I found that in listening to their mumbles, sighs, and scattered phrases, I was able to find meaning in the simplest things. A tight grasp of my hand, an embrace of my leg, or even a lingering stare told me they trusted me. The feeling of having such a small person put all of their trust in you is one of the most rewarding feelings I have ever experienced.

One of the girls, Daniela, touched my heart in a way that is hard to express. I am not sure of what her exact disabilities were, but she had trouble with her knees, with speech, and with communication altogether. She barely used words with any of us, even with her mother, but her heart was bigger than any in that classroom. Daniela was so intelligent; you could see the frustration in her beautiful eyes every time she inquired for something but I was unable to understand what she desired. I realized that even though she did have trouble explaining what she wanted with traditional words and phrases, Daniela was able to convey her wants through gestures and other means of communication. I learned to listen in a different way through my time with Daniela; I learned to listen with my heart.

Most surprising, even though I have been privileged in my education and am accustomed to conversing with articulate people, I never before realized how much I could learn from children who are considered handicapped. In many instances they were unable to verbalize their needs or thoughts through recognizable language. I found myself leaning into them, searching their eyes, and finding different ways to understand them. Their most poignant gift to me was that they taught me to listen in an entirely new way. By the end of the summer, after putting her to sleep for naptime countless days, after watching her clean her plate during snacks and lunch, after playing with her outside and helping her to become more social, I found that I had barely exchanged any words with Daniela, but had engaged in hundreds of conversations with her. With Daniela, and so many others, I learned to listen with my heart rather than struggle in making “sense” of their indecipherable words.