When asked how important family has been on his life journey, motivational speaker Nick Vujicic replied, “It was the most important factor. I’m very thankful that they loved me, challenged me to never give up, try new things, and often gave me godly advice.”
What is unique about Vujicic is that he was born without any arms or legs, and has gone on to travel the world and inspire others, especially young people, with his message of hope and empowerment. That he attributes so much of his success to his parents and family is not unique.
Despite the challenges that one may face in life, the love and support of at least one parent is often the most powerful force that comes into play as a person overcomes hardship to embrace the particular gifts they have to share with the world.
Irish writer Christy Brown was born in 1932 with severe cerebral palsy. Medical professionals urged his parents to have him institutionalized. His parents refused, however. His mother spent time with Christy and read to him. She could see in his eyes that he had something to communicate with the world.
One day, young Christy took a piece of chalk from his sister and grasped it in his left foot. With significant effort and encouragement from his mother, he wrote the letter A. That was the humble beginning of what was to become a great career as a writer and artist.
Brown went on to publish My Left Foot in 1954. This autobiographical masterpiece was made into an Academy Award-winning film in 1989. In 1970, he published Down All the Days, which the Irish Times called, “the most important Irish novel since Ulysses.”
Canadian Carly Fleischmann was diagnosed as a toddler with autism and oral-motor apraxia and is unable to speak. Surrounded by her devoted family, however, she began using a computer keyboard to communicate with others at the age of 10. What she was able to reveal has been ground-breaking, enlightening the world to the challenges faced by a person with severe autism. She and her father went on to publish Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism in 2012.
Now an adult, Carly continues to use technology to communicate her enlightening thoughts. She has been interviewed on numerous television talk shows and has her own Internet program called Speechless with Carly Fleischmann. She has interviewed numerous celebrities, including Channing Tatum, and her videos have been seen by millions.
The key lesson that Vujicic, Brown and Fleischmann teach us is to never underestimate the potential within each person. Though we may be tempted to judge others due to their ‘disabilities,’ it’s important to be open to what others can teach us.
This is vital information for those of us who work in health care and education. Each person we meet is precious, each person has unique and powerful gifts for the world. Though it can be extremely challenging to recognize this as we deal with busy schedules, mountains of paperwork and unusual behaviours, we need to remember to look into the eyes of each person we work with. There we will see what the parents of Nick, Christy and Carly could see, a brilliant mind in its own right and a powerful message.
We also need to acknowledge that when parents tell us that there is something very special about their child, they’re right. It may take tremendous patience and unconditional love to draw out their capabilities, but they are there.
The talents of a person may be hidden like a buried treasure, but there can be no doubt that if we dig, we will indeed find a precious gift of great value.
Troy Media columnist Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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