Several years ago, one of my really amazing professors in grad school had us all write a "This I Believe" essay, which we shared with the class in an extremely profound and emotional day. We had class at the Ben and Jerry's ice cream shop and had the entire place to ourselves. We bought (and ate) a lot of ice cream, and each took a turn standing up next to the Ben and Jerry's wooden cow and reading our belief statements. It is probably my favorite moment from graduate school.
A year or so after that, I had the youth group I was working with at my church write their own belief statement, and I wrote one as well. I had written a belief statement when I was in 8th grade that I read in front of my congregation, and I think it's a wonderful and important experience for everyone to have.
And thus, I birthed a tradition of intermittently writing This I Believe essays.
It's Tuesday, which is not my prime writing day, so instead, I'll post the This I Believe essay that I wrote a couple years ago. This is the one I shared in graduate school, and it's still extremely meaningful for several reasons. While I will write a different essay, this one still absolutely expresses something I believe.
This I Believe
Seeing as it would be impossible for me to even begin trying to explain what I believe, I am going to instead tell a story of a woman who changed what I believe. This woman served as one of the catalysts in my quest to learn how to truly see, be with, and learn from others.
I was 18 when this woman, who I will call "Jasmine," came into my life for a brief two week period. At 26 years old, Jasmine was affected by profound intellectual disability, significant medical concerns, and significant physical impairments. More prominently and importantly, however, Jasmine was a victim of neglect. She looked no more than 8 years old and was emaciated, completely immobile, and unable to swallow enough to eat or take the medications she was prescribed. She sat, eyes closed, head on her wheelchair tray, and nothing I did elicited any sort of response.
One day, I sat down with Jasmine and stared at her for a moment, wondering how society could have failed a person so thoroughly and completely. Wondering how the medical field could have failed her so completely. Wondering how I could have failed her so completely. I had never known it could hurt, almost unbearably, just to look at a person so clearly unable to get what she needed from anything or anyone.
Feeling completely hopeless, I carefully unhooked the belt on Jasmine's wheelchair. I put one hand around her body, and another under her legs such that I was cradling this 26 year old woman like an infant. Gently, I sat her in my lap, brushing the hair from her face and soothing her -- or more likely myself -- with quiet murmurs. I sat for nearly an hour holding her, singing, and talking to her quietly. None of this elicited any response. When I began to move to put Jasmine back in her chair, I noticed her eyelids fluttering until, slowly, her eyes opened, and for a long moment, her beautiful brown doe-like eyes stared into me, searching. In that instant, her eyes communicated a deep and innocent wonder, intense pain, incredulous curiosity, and immeasurable depth. Her mouth twitched and then spread wide into a grin with a deep gurgle of laughter that came up deep from her belly. Her smile filled both of our souls.
"Hey pretty girl," I murmured. "I see you. Look at your smile. I see you now, Jasmine." And I did see her then, for the first time. She was still there, after all those years. And she was beautiful.
People ask me why I want to work with individuals with disabilities, and I tell them, "I just feel drawn to that community." But that's not it. I work with people with disabilities because I believe they are people who are waiting, just as we all are, to show ourselves to a world that is inadequate in communicating with our true selves. I believe every person is whole, beautiful, and full of life and potential and lessons to teach, if only we knew how to speak each others' language. I see it as my duty as a human being to look to that deeper place until I find the person who is longing for connection in an incomprehensible world that makes no attempt to comprehend.
Undoubtedly, eventually, we will meet, even if only for a second. When our souls meet in the uncommon ground between us, how could that not be beautiful?