Saturday, May 23, 2009

My Kindred Spirits


Since 2003, I have had the honor of speaking to the "Peer Insights" class at Eden Prairie High School about my battle with Cystic Fibrosis. This is a unique classroom environment because it is a mix of students with different physical and mental challenges - down syndrome, cerebral palsy, etc - and their "peer partners", who are your typical high school students. During our time together I give them information on CF, let them try on my therapy machine which makes them them giggle as their voices vibrate, and show them the medicine I take on daily basis. The best part of the presentation for me is when I open the floor to questions. This amazing group has always engaged in discussions and this year was no different. We talked about death, marriage, college, my high school experiences. You name it, they had a question. No subject is off the table because what these kids need honesty and vulnerability.

My goal has always been to motivate others who have struggled like I have. The only reason I feel semi-qualified to speak to them is because I've walked a similar path. I remember how hard it was to make others look beyond the label of "that kid who has..." and get to know the real me. But there are some differences as well. My disease has very minimal outward signs and symptoms, so I have the initial opportunity to cultivate friendships before letting them know everything about me. I can't imagine how hard it must be for them to find true friendship without dealing with immediate judgment and ignorance. They persevere valiantly, only wanting equal treatment from their peers. For the most part they are given it; It's just a small percentage of the population that are insecure and vile enough to leave a permanent scar on these wonderful people. A few years ago, a young lady in the class asked me how to cope with people teasing her about her disability. When I suggested a few options she replied "What if that doesn't work?" I had no answer for her and it broke my heart. Why are people deliberately mean? Why is it so much easier to fear and hate what we don't understand? Don't they realize that it hurts to be laughed at, ridiculed, or patronized for things you cannot control? Thank goodness for their "peer partners" in the classroom. They are a true friends because they interact with their classmates with respect and honor, the way we all deserve to be.

Before the bell rang, I left these students with a final thought: "We all have our crosses to bear. Some just aren't as visible to the naked eye. Whatever your cross is, you can get through it. No one can control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. Every student in this classroom has the ability to be the best person they can be. All you have to do is try."

After the classroom cleared their teacher complemented me on my honesty and my ability to connect with her students. She told me they had never been that engaged in a discussion with any other guest speaker. The fact that I empowered her students really meant a lot to me. If listening to me and seeing what I have been able to do will give someone the confidence to achieve even greater things, then I am happy to do it. What those students and teachers don't realize is that they inspire me to be a better person. It's a blessing every time I get to walk into that classroom. My dream is to one day become a motivational speaker and go around the country promoting self-confidence and self-worth; becoming an advocate for anyone who battles bravely through their life challenges. With any luck, I will find a way to do that and continue giving back to students just like these ones...my kindred spirits.

Peaceful Things,

Josh

3 comments:

  1. Hi Josh, it's 3:30AM...unable to sleep, and with thoughts on the happierplanet.org launch, I got up and Skyped my friend Kalyan in India to talk about my latest ideas for our joint venture. We had a great conversation and I was about to return to bed when I saw that you had a new blog post. Even though I really needed the sleep, I couldn't resist checking it out, and I'm glad I did. What struck me about this post, is it's universality. So many kids have to put up with so much...whether it's because their skin color doesn't match that of the majority, their family is poor, they're gay or lesbian, their body doesn't quite look or function the way a "normal" body is supposed to, or whatever it is that has them feel like they don't belong, they have to put up with a lot of crap, and more often than not, suffer silently and alone in it. I'm so glad that there are programs like "Peer Insights" at Eden Prairie High, and I'm grateful that there are beautiful people like you in the world who risk living their lives authentically, and with great vulnerably for the sake of others. Josh, you make this planet a happier place by being who you are and being that very, very well. I'm proud to be your uncle, and I will return to bed with a smile on my face, knowing that all is radically well...God's plan for the redemption of humanity, and the creation of a world that works for everyone, with no one left out, is all being worked out through quiet, extraordinary people like you. Thank you for answering the call. Love ya! Uncle Brian

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  2. Awww...I love the comment from your uncle. And, I really enjoy reading your blog. You are truly inspiring. Thanks again for sharing.

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  3. First off, thank you so much for your kind comment on my first 'blogspot' entry ever! I just had it set up (I still need to fix it up), and was taken by surprise. So, thank you for that.

    Secondly, I think this entry and what you are doing in general, is beyond words. It's remarkable. Battling cystic fibrosis itself is challenging, and being able to step out of your shell to motivate others is truly inspiring. I work at a stem cell research company, and hope that our efforts can someday rid such diseases. It is definitely a far reach, but people like you encourage us to work twice as hard :)

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