On July 22nd, 2009, I journeyed with thirty other individuals to the distant land of Langfang, China. I worked at an American-run special needs orphanage called the Philip Hayden Foundation (www.chinaorphans.org). I saw children with cleft palates, others with burns covering over 70% of their body, and a few dying of inoperable heart conditions. Although it was difficult to see children that were suffering so much, I began to see past their conditions and got to know the amazing individuals underneath.
There was a boy named Grady that I was especially close to. He called me ji? jie (older sister) and I called him dÃ¬ di (younger brother). Grady is 14 years old and has scoliosis so severe he cannot walk. Grady also has a loud and energetic personality, strength beyond understanding, and the biggest heart on the planet.
The team I went with had the opportunity to take all the school age children to an aquarium in Beijing. I was paired with Grady for the day. I knew the day would be challenging, but I was determined to make it a good day. Our first obstacle was a staircase. Going up and down stairs is not easy for Grady; it is almost impossible without a railing. I watched as Grady maneuvered his way down the stairs. He refused assistance from anyone. It took him about a minute per step. When we made it to the aquarium, we were in awe of all the beautiful sea creatures. He took pictures as we saw starfish, giant sea turtles, and sharks. As we were looking at fish, I noticed a couple teenagers pointing and laughing at Grady. He was trying to get past them, saying excuse me, but they wouldn’t let him through. I quickly asked them to move and they moved almost instantly. I told Grady I was sorry, but he just shook his head and offered me a weary smile.
After visiting the aquarium we took all the kids to McDonalds. There was no way for Grady to walk down the stairs, so he got on his hands and knees and crawled. People in the restaurant all became silent and stared at him as though he was a freak. He ignored them, grabbed his crutches, and sat down at a table. Then I witnessed a miracle. A little old lady came and sat next to him and they began to talk. I couldn’t understand them, but I saw them smiling and laughing. In the end, she took the little money she had, and bought him an extra order of spicy chicken wings. Seeing this stranger reach out to Grady touched my heart.
Grady has a tough life. His parents abandoned him, yet he told me he could never hate them. He cannot go out in public without being teased. He has watched friend after friend get adopted while he gets left behind. Yet Grady lives and Grady loves. Before we left, Grady cut out a pink paper heart and wrote the names of all the people he loved on it. Grady’s paper heart was filled with names, including mine. Grady taught me that even when your life is filled with pain, abandonment, and suffering, it is still possible to love others. When I look back on my trip to China, I choose not to remember the pollution, the hurt, or the people who made me angry. I choose to remember a 14 year old boy with an infectious smile who taught me a little something about persevering through hard times and loving others.
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