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Top Ten: Life Lessons Learned from Exceptional Individuals

They say it’s not prudent to mix family and business. To that I say, “pffffffffffft.” First of all, if you haven’t noticed, my family is my business (seriously, have you read this blog?). But more importantly, occasionally including my family in my blog is a way to share their stories and point of views while still respecting their privacy.

I know – you are probably scratching your head as you read “respecting their privacy,” coming from the same woman who wrote “Airing the Dirty Laundry.” I truly believe that sharing stories and being open with others regarding your loved one’s special needs almost always results in more help, support, better understanding and a lighter load overall. Because of this philosophy I treat my life like an open book, and let’s face it, James’s too – I just don’t think he’d care that I share his stories with you (have you read the Monday Minute yet?) However, I don’t feel that it’s appropriate to apply my “open policy” to family and friends – it’s not my business to share my husband’s struggles, my parent’s opinions or my siblings’ feelings regarding James, disabilities, politics or the weather (okay, maybe the weather).

Which is why I’m so glad that they are stepping forward on their own (with a very slight tiny nudge from me). First at bat is my favorite, only, little sister, Brigid. Brigid lives in CT where she is a senior in high school. She spends one week every summer volunteering at Clelian Heights School for Exceptional Children in Greensburg, PA and around ten more volunteering at the Searfoorce House of Undernapping Children in NY, NY.

I am the oldest and she is the youngest of five siblings, but don’t let our age difference fool you – this girl has been a lifesaver (and sanity saver) on so many occasions I’ve lost count. She is fantastic with all of my kids, but is especially patient, caring and patient with James. Yes, she’s that patient. Brigid views me on such a high pedestal that I feel obligated to do better when she is around in order not to crush her delusions about my amazing parenting skills. Though she is the baby of the family in many ways, you will see when reading her Top Ten that Brigid is wise well beyond her years.

Top Ten: Life Lessons Learned from Exceptional Individuals

by Brigid Gerrity

My experience at Clelian Heights, combined with all of the time I’ve spent with my nephew, James, have taught me so many truly amazing life lessons.

1.       Don’t sweat the small stuff. I am one of those individuals who is regularly prone to overreacting to the most ridiculously minute things. One of the most beautiful things that I’ve witnessed in both James and in my experience at Clelian Heights is the ability to just let the small stuff roll of your back and to realize what’s really important.

2.       Say “I Love You” candidly and frequently.  James is our family love bug. As Michaela frequently jokes, and as we’ve all personally experienced, James’ favorite and most practiced phrase is “I love you”. He is a constant reminder that one of the most important things you can say to someone important to you is “I love you”. Never be afraid to say it.

3.       Be open to everyone you meet. Probably one of the most outstanding things that I consistently witnessed at Clelian was the fact that all of the students, regardless of how well they knew the other students, were always receptive and open to one another, as if they had known each other for their entire life.

4.       When you’re willing to work for something, you can achieve it. My sister is the one who has taught me this life lesson. Michaela strives day in and day out to accomplish so much with James. She has been an absolute inspiration, because I see that the more energy and determination that she devotes to James’ cause, the more and more she accomplishes on a regular basis.

5.       Rejoice in the triumphs of others. One of the most moving days of my entire life came when I was working with a Down Syndrome student, Ryan. He is about eight years old, and we spent all class working together, putting colored cotton balls into their matching colored container. Every time he got one correct, his level of excitement and pride allowed me to feel more accomplished and more proud than I ever have in my entire life.

6.       Patience is everything. I’ve learned, from my nephew and from the students I’ve worked with for the past few years, that patience, understanding, and compassion will take you so far with just about anyone and everyone that you meet.

7.       Take each day one step at a time. Myself, and so many people I know, are planners. We plan so far into the future that we forget that today is today. Each day for James and for the kids I’ve met over the summer is just that day. Whether there’s something exciting planned, or whether it’s just a normal day for the books, its special, and it’s worth paying attention to.

8.       Make sure to have fun, even if you feel silly doing it. This past summer, Clelian Heights had a music performance/dance in their gymnasium. Initially, I was experiencing my usual paranoia that everybody was going to laugh at me dancing in public. However, when one of the students invited me out on the floor to dance, not only was I having an absolute blast, but I realized that feeling totally silly was the best part.

9.       Give people the benefit of the doubt. James, and all of the individuals that I’ve met at Clelian Heights, are completely wise beyond their years. They have something special that so many people these days do not have: they have their total innocence. They aren’t cynical, they aren’t negative: they are receptive and positive, and they expect the best out of people, even when those people don’t necessarily deserve it.

10.   Enjoy the simple things. I think that oftentimes people think that life has some complex answer to what being happy is all about. Honestly, though, through all of my experiences with these amazing kids and adults, especially James, I have come to realize that sometimes the answer to being happy and content is something very simple that is right in front of your nose.

  1. November 1, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    My offer still stands, trade sisters? I’ll throw in some $$ 😉

  2. Sr. Mary Anne Sharron
    November 1, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    Brigid, God bless you for sharing your top ten life lessons learned from your nephew James and the children of Clelian Heights! May I learn from them as well! Sr. Mary Anne

  3. November 1, 2011 at 11:50 am

    What an exceptional young woman, and very inspiring to this Mom, for whom reminders like this make all the difference. You and James are quite lucky! Kim

    • November 1, 2011 at 12:26 pm

      I know _ I may even hit the jackpot if she goes to college in NYC next year (no pressure, Brig!)

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