On perhaps the hottest day of September 2008, I was a freshman in high school and helping out with a local jogathon for elementary school-aged children. Even though the school year and high school had just started, I began thinking about where I wanted to be after the next four years of my life, what the future would hold, whether I would be happy.
It was in the middle of worrying about these thoughts and an uncertain future when I met Tommy, a 9-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, ADHD, and a hungry enthusiasm for life.
He was by far the fastest kid at the jogathon. Not only did he finish a lap every four minutes, but he also raced around the grass singing the inspiring Pokemon theme song. His 9-year-old body was small and seemed to me easily fragile, but he ran nonstop turbo-speed for 20 minutes before resting to take a break at the water station.
I asked him about his summer and how he liked home-schooling so far, and although he couldn’t maintain eye contact, there was a sensitive kindness in every word he spoke. After his second cup of water, he asked me about high school, whether I liked it so far, whether I made friends, real friends, whether I wanted to borrow his new dictionary his mom had just bought him.
I laughed and told Tommy about high school, how the new freedom was great, how I respected and admired my peers and teachers, how even though I loved high school, I had just read an article about how these next four years would affect the rest of my life. He listened with rapt attention and after shifting his weight rapidly from one foot to the other for a few seconds, his eyebrows furrowed into an expression of confusion and bewilderment. I asked him what was wrong and he told me with a wise smile only a 9-year-old can give that nothing is wrong in life if you do what you love.
I have stood by those words ever since I first heard them uttered from Tommy’s mouth. Nothing is wrong in life if you do what you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the worst or best at something, whether you succeed or don’t succeed, whether you’re a boy or a girl, whether you have a disability or not: what matters is what you love. And for that regained perspective, I am thankful for Tommy’s wisdom.