I had lingering thoughts on yesterday’s post and I had to share something with you that inspired me.
“A young man in a northern Utah high school participated in a unique directive that integrated students with a physical or mental challenge into mainstream classes.
To make the directive work, the administration organised a mentor program that teamed one special-needs student with a mainstream student who would help and mentor. The school athletic director presented the idea to the captain of the football team. John was a tall, strong, intense young man – not the patient, caring type needed for this type of program. He made it clear that this wasn’t “his thing” and he didn’t have time to be a mentor. But the athletic director knew it would be good for John and insisted he volunteer.
John was matched with Randy, a young man with Down Syndrome. Reluctant and irritated at first, John tried to lose Randy, but very soon John got used to him and welcomed the constant company. Randy not only attended every one of John’s classes and ate with him at lunchtime, but he also came to football practice with him. After a few days, John asked the coach to make Randy the official team manager, responsible for the balls, tape, and water bottles. At the end of the football season, the team won the state championship, and John was named state MVP. Randy was presented with a school Letterman’s jacket. The team cheered as Randy put it on. It was the coolest thing that had ever happened to him. From that day forward, Randy never took it off. He slept in his jacket and wore it throughout each weekend.
Basketball season started, and John became captain and star of the team. At John’s request, the team again named Randy manager. During the basketball season, John and Randy remained inseparable. Not only did John take Randy to special occasions – like dances as a joint escort for his girlfriend – but he also took Randy to the library to tutor him in his classes. John himself became a much better student as he tutored Randy, and John made the honour roll for the first time in more than a year. The mentor program had made that school year the most rewarding year in John’s life.
Then tragedy struck in the middle of the state basketball tournament. Randy fell ill and died of pneumonia. The funeral took place the day before the championship game. John addressed the mourners, sharing his deep, abiding friendship and respect for Randy. He told how Randy had taught him about real courage, self esteem, love, and the importance of giving 100% in everything he did. John dedicated the upcoming state finals game to Randy and concluded his remarks by stating that he was honoured to have received the MVP award in football and the leadership plaque for being the captain of the basketball team. “But”, John added, “the real leader of both the football and basketball teams was Randy, for he accomplished more with what he had than anyone I’ve ever met. Randy inspired all who knew him.”
John walked from behind the podium, took off the irreplaceable state football MVP medallion that hung around his neck, leaned into the open casket, and placed it on Randy’s chest. Then he placed his leadership plaque next to it. Randy was buried in his Letterman’s jacket, surrounded by John’s cherished rewards as well as pictures and letters left by those who admired him. The next day, John’s team won the championship and presented the game ball to Randy’s family. John went to college on a full athletic scholarship, eventually earning a master’s degree in education. Today John is a special-education teacher and volunteers ten hours a week for the Special Olympics.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
What we’ve been in the past does not make us who we are today; what we hope to become in the future does. Successful people judge others. They impose justice, merely tolerate differences, and satisfy themselves with strict adherence to the letter of the law. They stay within the realm of the rational and the logical. Significant individuals live the advanced, higher Law of Acceptance, serving as a beacon and inspiration for others to do the same. Let us strive for total acceptance, first of ourselves, and then of all other human beings with “pre-existing conditions” – of height, weight, physical or mental disabilities, race, colour, creed, education, school performance, financial status, health habits, gender, sexual orientation, and lifestyle. Let us give up the stigmas we place on one another and cleanse our consciences so that we all can continue to grow into whole, fulfilled, authentic people.