I was able to witness the most courageous and honest conversation among 15 young adults with disabilities a few days ago. I sat in silence at the back of the room during a disability awareness workshop for students with disabilities listening to them each share their history and speak openly about their disability. Cerebral Palsy, Autism, ADHD, Bi-Polar, Aspergers and more.
Much of the conversation still lingers in my mind and will stay forever in my heart.
One by one they shared their stories. Each person volunteering to open wounds of past pain and allow their vulnerability to show. Many were deep in thought as they listened to each other recall years of bullying. Some cried and some sobbed.
Their stories were all similar. Many began with words like, “my worst years were elementary” or “I wanted so badly to be understood” and “I was treated like a freak.” And most ended with sharing ways they learned to ignore, but never forget, the pain they experienced by the ignorance of people.
There is not a class in any academic setting that could offer such learning as that magical 90 minutes of honesty and courage. The acceptance that was present. The comfort that was found. The belonging.
And for me, I am able to take those words that I heard into my heart and allow each one of their stories to reside in my soul knowing that those young adults are a gift.
On a personal level my heart hurt thinking not only about these young people, but my girl at home. I wondered about her experience being bullied for being different. I wondered if she also felt ashamed of who she is. I wondered what years were the hardest for her.
I drove home as tears rolled down my cheeks. I thought of the courage that it takes to keep going in a harsh world where people still are so ignorant. I thought about my girl. I thought about the gift that was given to me during that 90 minutes at the back of the room. I thought about the courage it took for them to reveal and allow wounds to be ripped open.
I thought about how fortunate I am to witness such beauty and such humanity. I thought about why I have this job. I thought about how I could grow from this experience. I thought about those kids.
The images of their tears and their stories are for embedded in my heart. I am grateful.