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Learning to Cherish the Gift of Life

Posted Apr 22 2006 12:00am
While working as a consultant for a small school district, I was asked to place a visit to one of the students that was severely disabled. I was asked to stimulate him through friendly interactions and play. I arrived to the classroom with my box of instructional toys, and was introduced to a small, eight-year-old boy strapped in a wheelchair. I greeted him, but he did not respond. I grabbed his hand, but his fingers were limp. His little head was slumped over. The child had not even looked up at me. I took my hand and placed it under his chin and lifted his darling head up. “Hello.”, I said. No salutation, moan, laugh, or wiggle came from the child. “How can I play with this child?” I thought. “His body is here, but he’s not.” I wanted to put all of my toys back in the box and leave. I felt saddened and upset for the child. How could anyone want to live that way? But I couldn’t leave. I had to do my job.

I tried to get a response out of him with my toys. I pulled out my rattle and put it in his hand. But his fingers did not grip the handle. I cuffed my hand over his hand so that he would hold the rattle. I shook it. But the boy did not respond. I pulled out my talking, school bus that sings the alphabet. But he was not interested in the bus or the happy melody that poured from the bus.

His teacher suggested that I try a toy that she described as his favorite. I placed his small, bony hands on the colorful toy and pushed a button, the toy started to vibrate and ring silly sounds. I couldn’t believe my ears. The child hummed a high pitched sound that sounding like he was expressing joy. “What? A sound from the boy?” I thought. Then I heard light tones coming from his mouth. His teacher said that he was laughing. I pressed another button, the toy buzzed and rattled. The happy sound came from the boy again. I was so delighted to see this lifeless child be filled with happiness and joy.

Last year, when the highly controversial case of Terri Schiavo, a severely brain damaged woman, who was in the middle of a highly inflammatory legal dispute between her parents and her husband on whether or not to keep her alive, was introduced to the world by the American press, I thought about my small, severely disabled student. I’m ashamed to admit that I initially thought this darling boy’s life was not worth living. But inside of his little body was a little boy that enjoyed what I thought of as simple and unimportant. He was enjoying life in his own way. I’m sure that the child’s mother would have been devastated if her little one was completely taken from her. Instead of being bitter about what she did not have in a son, she cherished every part of her little boy.

I learned from that experience that all life is valuable and that we should cherish every morsel of life. I also discovered that no matter how fractured or impaired a person’s abilities are, joy, love, peace, and happiness can be and should be experienced by every living person.
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