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The gift of inclusion

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

Today I heard a beautiful story told by Bre Gastaldi on the Once Upon a Gene podcast, and it reminded me of something wonderful that happened when I was in 5th grade.

One of my neighbors had cerebral palsy, and his parents invited the rest of the kids in the neighborhood to ride the special needs bus with him. I can still remember talking it over with my parents in the living room after my mom got off the phone with his mom. I didn’t really know Creed yet. Also, I was new to the school and was already in remedial classes for reading and math, so I was a little worried that the other kids would think of me differently if I rode the special needs bus. Still, with a little encouragement from my mom, I decided to give it a try.

At first I didn’t really know how to act around Creed. He had ankle braces, rode in a wheelchair, made spastic movements with his arms, and was difficult to understand when he spoke. My mom had explained to me that Creed was feeling lonely on his bus, which actually made it easier for me to approach him. As I was naturally shy, it helped to know that Creed really wanted my company.

Pretty soon we got used to each other, and I started to learn that it was okay if I didn’t understand what he said the first time. It was okay to ask him to repeat himself, because it meant I really wanted to know what he had to say. Since I was a little older than some of the other kids, and he had a tough time talking, I started telling stories on our bus ride. I remember how he would grin and croon and pull his hands up to his chest when he was really enjoying some part of the story.

There was a girl on the bus route whose family raised miniature sheep, and one time a sheep followed her right onto the bus. You can just imagine the exuberant reception we gave our wooly stow-away! We had a great time together on that bus. Most of us kids in the neighborhood ended up riding the bus with Creed for the rest of the year, and I would have gladly done it the next year if I hadn’t moved up to middle school.

Almost a decade later when I was a freshman in college, I took a ballroom dance class. A girl in my class was blind, and her eyes looked a little strange. The instructor always let us pick our dance partners, and I noticed that most guys seemed to avoid looking her way when they were trying to pair up.

Bobbie and I ended up dancing a lot that semester. She was excellent at following my lead on the dance floor, sensing the push of my palm in hers or the tug of my hand on her back. After class, we would often walk together to the bus stop and chat along the way.

If I hadn’t been friends with Creed, I don’t know if I would have had the courage to become friends with Bobbie. It certainly made it less scary to ask her to dance that first time.

The times I spent with Creed and Bobbie are some of my most cherished memories, which still bring me joy every time I think about them. I am really grateful that Creed’s parents gave me the opportunity to overcome some initial fears and shyness. They opened my life to some really wonderful people.

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