During this past Spring Break, I was fortunate enough to go to Bethphage Village in Axtell, NE. Through this experience, I got the opportunity to get to know individuals living with intellectual disabilities. I came into this trip with little knowledge of intellectual disabilities and the struggles that these members of our society are facing. Admittedly, I was very awkward the first day I was with the residents. Because many of the residents could not verbally speak, I was at a loss for how to communicate with them.
This began to change after I met a man I’ll call Ethan. From the moment I met him, it was clear what a joyful spirit he has. Every day when I would walk into the room, Ethan would get the most enormous smile on his face and stretch out his hand towards me. I spent most mornings and afternoons simply holding his hand or letting him lean his head on my shoulder. As the days progressed, I found myself verbally speaking less and less when I was around Ethan. I quit trying to fill the silence with my own form of communication. Instead, I allowed myself to adopt Ethan’s communication of a wide smile and a gentle touch.
During my time spent with Ethan, he gave me more than I could ever hope to give him. He taught me that all of us want to be understood, regardless of the means we have to convey ourselves. We all have a deep yearning for compassion and community that can only be found in the presence of others. It is what connects us all on a much deeper level than speech can. It is what gives our lives meaning. It is what makes us human.
Class of 2016
College of Arts & Sciences
SBSJT 2014 Trip Coordinator
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