The Word “Special” Means Admirable and Capable

In kindergarten, I knew my brother was “special”. What I did not know, was the connotation the word “special” would eventually adopt. When you’re six, being special is supposed to mean that you’re smart, funny, and adored. It means that there is something about you that makes you different, something unique. I did not realize that when people said my brother was “special” it was referring to his physical and mental disabilities.

One day, on the playground at my elementary school, a boy a few grades above me declared that my brother wasn’t “special”, he was retarded, and stupid. I remember screaming, and hitting the boy who had just insulted my entire universe. I remember being reprimanded by my teacher, and the principal, and being told that I was in time out.  I remember being asked why I hit the boy, and explaining that the boy said something mean about my brother. I remember being told that hitting was not nice, and there were other ways to express yourself, using words.

When you are six, it’s hard to comprehend that expressing yourself with words is the right way to solve problems, when words are what hurt you in the first place.

As an adult looking back, I cannot change every time somebody made me feel like Josh was inadequately modified. I cannot take back the tears caused by someone who felt that the best form of bullying came from making a weakness out of my willingness to be his three foot tall personal bodyguard at all times. I cannot retrieve the hours spent trading my recess time for a seat in the principal’s office.

What I can do, is use my life experiences to better the lives of those around me. Giving back is my way of getting back at all of the people who made fun of Josh’s disabilities. It is my way of finding balance between the adversaries and the accomplishments I’ve experienced.

The Special Olympics is an amazing organization, giving children with disabilities, normalization. It promotes friendship, sportsmanship, and support from the community. Taking part in the Special Olympics is always humbling, and always reminds me that there children out there just like Josh, with little sisters just like me.

Without further delay, here are the professional photographs I was able to snap during my opportunity documenting the Special Olympics. I hope I was able to capture the unexplainable level of happiness and triumph exuded during the games. I also hope that I was able to reinstate the idea that the word “special” means admirable and capable.







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13 thoughts on “The Word “Special” Means Admirable and Capable

  1. What great pictures! Also, I may be a little bit excited to see a taste of home… I grew up in New Hampshire so all of those town names on the jerseys are town names I recognize! :D

  2. I really really love this post. After my Dad taught Grade 4 for a few years, he went back to advance his degree to be able to teach “Special Education” classes. He also supported the Special Olympics in the area, and worked with the kids to have floats in the local parades etc.; I remember those years too. I relate to your family experience because some of my Dad’s favorite students were from those classes. Your pictures capture a joy and energy that is completely pure and I’m sure they also reflect the love you will always have for your own brother Josh. I think it’s sweet that your Dad commented above.

    • Thank you SO much, what a lovely comment. I’m glad that you were able to share that experience growing up with your dad, and also I’m happy those students were able to have a teacher like your dad. It sounds like he was an amazing person. My hope, when I photograph people, is that I am able to capture and transmit their emotions. Being part of the Special Olympics is always such a joy.

  3. How lucky your brother was (and is) to have such a feisty, protective, and caring sister like you. I can imagine it would’ve been pretty difficult to go through, all those fights and meetings. But it speaks to your character that even as a child you defended what you knew was right and moral.

  4. It sounds like you and your brother are lucky to have each other.

    My uncle had brain damage from a difficult birth, on top of epilepsy. I know he taught many people in our family some of the most important lessons we’ve learned. My dad (his brother) talks often about a bowling team my uncle was on…it was decades ago, and he still remembers particular people and how important that team was for everyone involved.

    Wonderful of you to share this and be a part of it.

    • Thank you so much for sharing a piece of your story with me! My brother actually passed away when I was 10, but it was an amazing experience growing up with him. It made me a more patient, understanding person. Or at least I like to think it did. I am humbled by your story and I appreciate you sharing it! Have you ever wrote about it, or how it has shaped your family values? I think that would be an interesting thing to write about :)

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