Remember Me

November 24, 2012
We were seated outside on the brick patio eating freshly cooked potato chips when I saw him. The falling sunlight was reflecting off of his thick glasses, blurring his eyes from my sight, his hands unmistakably twisted together as only his could be. Waiting for a table with his family was my old friend Cole. Cole, whom I hadn’t seen since the fifth grade. Cole, who had been my buddy for a year. Cole, who is a special needs student living with Autism.

Cole integrated into my fifth grade class for recess. I volunteered to play with him, help him feel like a normal kid. We had a daily routine. First, Cole would walk into the classroom, flapping his hands, and would fall into line next to me. Then we raced down the hill to the set of red swings on the “big playground.” We had thirty blissful minutes of stories, jokes, and flying up into the air, watching the other kids play tag below. I felt badly for those kids because they did not have what we had. I was learning acceptance every day. We are not so different, Cole and I. We both like pizza, and neither of us like bees. We are both humans. That was the program’s goal, I think; to foster an appreciation for people different from ourselves, and find our similarities.
I babysit for three special needs children that have had a profound effect on my life and career interests, but Cole was the spark that started it all. I now fill my time babysitting, volunteering, interning, and most importantly, starting a fundraising club that supports a special needs school. Running into Cole reminded me of the influence I can have on other’s lives.

I pushed my chair back and gained the courage to approach Cole. Would he remember me? He was rocking back and forth, eyes cast downward. The family was deep in conversation and did not notice me, but as I approached Cole glanced up, and everything changed. Cole recognized me in an instant. I watched his smile grow, his hands flap, and his rocking become more vigorous with excitement.
“Hi Cole. Do you remember me?” I asked. Those spoken words drew his family’s attention towards us.
Cole nodded his head enthusiastically and through his broad grin managed to say, “Mom, it’s Maggie.”
Cole’s mom and family thanked me for working with Cole, for being a friend to him. I asked Cole about school, friends, normal things about life, and told him about myself. He did not stop smiling the whole time.

After that encounter, I realized I could truly make a difference. Cole showed me how I could make a person happy by just being myself. My curiosity and natural acceptance of others leads me to seek answers and learn about people. I fully realize the extent of how my willingness to accept others matters, how it is not always our similarities, but our differences, that build a community.

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