Ed note: I had hoped to write an introduction to the following letter that I recently received from a reader. But the last twelve hours have not looked kindly on such pursuits. Thankfully, I’m pretty sure it can stand on its own.
I will say just one thing – I never thought I’d be so happy to be bathroom reading.
To: Jess at Diary
From: A new reader
Writing a thank you letter is much more complex than one would guess. I am attempting to find the words to write you an eloquent, heartfelt thank you letter in which my emotions are palpable. You have ignited a fire in my soul, unlike anything I have yet experienced.
I am a college student in a small town in South Dakota. I am not someone who others turn to for her superb public speaking skills. I am not the person who exudes passion for any one topic is such a manner that others actually associate her with it. I am just another student wandering the campus on my way to graduation so I can enter the “real world” and THEN I will make a difference. Or at least I was that person. I am not so much that person anymore, in fact I have nearly thrown her out the window and traded her in for a much more motivated version. A version that no longer feels her voice is too small to affect anyone.
So what does this upgrade/transformation have to do with you? Great question! You see, I have wanted to make a difference in the world since I can remember, but never really knew how. Most my life I figured just existing would be enough, however, lately merely existing has not been enough.
I spent this last summer working at a daycare in my hometown which specializes in working with children ages 3 to 21 who have special needs. My world was reshaped and changed. My heart quadrupled in size, or maybe even more than that, perhaps it expanded in an exponential matter beyond mankind’s ability to actually measure. Either way the amount of love I felt nearly made my heart explode, I was touched by all the children, whether they had epilepsy, down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy or other various diagnosis, I was touched by them all.
At first I thought this was it. I would make a difference by loving on these children and their families and telling my friends and family how much I love it. That was all I was capable of, but others told me it was more than most are capable of, so I felt comfortable with that. As my school year began and progressed and I spent more time away from those children, I felt like it was not enough. I wanted to share my love for those kids with others, but didn’t really know how. I joined a Down Syndrome awareness organization and Autism Speaks on Facebook, and my transformation began.
Upon learning that April is Autism Awareness Month I knew I wanted to let others know. A couple of days later I had yet to come up with any idea on how to spread the news when I noticed my RA decorating our floor’s bulletin board for March. The next day I e-mailed her and asked if I could decorate the bulletin board for April, she agreed and I set to work planning the board.
A week into my project I found your blog. The rest is history. I became, and still am, addicted to your words. The eloquence and power behind your one voice has reached so many others that I realized that I may be just one voice but I can be a very loud voice, and I can touch countless others.
Jess, your strength and determination to create a world that will accept and understand Brooke pushed me to actually work towards creating a world for all “my children”. I call all the children at the daycare “my children” because I love them and want them to have every opportunity in their lives, and when they hurt, like a parent, I too hurt.
Today I posted the bulletin board on my floor (ed note: please see the photo at the top of the post and click to zoom), but I did not stop there as I once had planned. I also posted new name tags on all the doors of my floor, in the shape and colors of the autism awareness ribbon, so each time the girls enter their rooms they are reminded.
With those two feats accomplished I posted the first of many coming blog entries inside the stall doors in the bathroom. (I know you probably never imagined your words gracing the stall doors of a dormitory bathroom, but it is a very effective way to reach the girls in my dorm). I have already heard several positive comments and feedback to my work, this makes me feel good but it also pushes me to continue to reach others and to spread the word.
I hope to use my new-found voice to push for acceptance and understanding of all individuals in the special needs community. Each April I will focus on Autism Awareness, just like each October I will focus on Down Syndrome Awareness. I hope that one day all “my children” will be loved, respected, valued, and understood for who they are.
Thank you for not being afraid to let your voice ring out loud and clear, because without your voice I may never have found my own.
Again and again I will say it – Awareness is not the goal, but it is the only means by which we will achieve it.
Tell your story. Use your voice. You never know who is listening.
Thank you, C. From the bottom of my heart. THANK YOU.