Monday, February 10, 2014

No Limitations

The hot, steamy air of Ecuador hit us like a wet towel as we stepped out of the small airport in Guayaquil, Ecuador. January of my senior year in college found me embarking on a life-changing mission trip called “Rostro de Cristo”, located outside of a major export city in South America. The week I spent with classmates and residents of a small town called Duran created memories that I will never forget. The people, the places, the food- they all hold a special place in my heart that can not be replaced with anything found in this material world. However, the struggle to get to that point in my life was not easy, and is something that I reflect back on from time to time to see how far I have really come.

I am sitting in the guidance counselor’s office my senior year of high school, bright eyed about the possibilities of college that are still fresh in my mind after weekend visits. My SATs are in the bag, and I made puppy eyes at my dad until he paid the application fees to my top choices. The counselor sighs and pushes her glasses up onto her head. “Are you sure you want to go to college?” she asks me, brow arched. “It will be difficult with your limitations, you know.” My limitation, as she likes to call it, is diabetes. I don’t produce insulin and have to take daily shots in order to regulate my blood sugars. I am in three AP classes, I am a varsity athlete on the track and field team, and I am nationally ranked in Speech and Debate, but according to her, I am limited.

“Well-”, I hesitate, unsure of how to respond to her question. Am I sure? Yes, I am absolutely sure that I am supposed to go to college, but I start to feel a gnawing monster in my belly, questioning my ability to succeed. Later that night, I am at home, helping my mom fold laundry in the living room. “What would you think if I just went to community college for awhile and figured it out?” I asked her as I searched fruitlessly for my matching sock. She looks at me, a confused expression etched across her face. My mother, who left school to start a family, and didn’t go back in order to raise us. “What do you mean, figure it out?” I am sure she is thinking of the months of flooded mailboxes, the countless trips to visit schools, and my test anxiety that rubbed off on the rest of the family. I tell her about my meeting with the guidance counselor, and watch her face change from confusion to anger. I am glad my mom is by my side for this battle, because I have a feeling it will turn into full on war.

I am talking to the admissions counselor at the school I really want to go to, and all I am missing is the official transcript from my high school. I promise to have it in the mail the next day, and take a stamped envelope with my forms to the guidance office. Two weeks later, I receive a rejection letter, and I call the admissions counselor in tears. “You promised!” I sobbed into the phone, inconsolate about what I perceived to be my dream school. Soothing me over the phone, she pulls up my file, and tells me that they never received my official transcript from school. I never saw anger in color until that afternoon. I called my high school and demanded answers. I sat for hours in the guidance suite, and I brought a ferocious mama bear with me. We couldn’t prove anything, and my counselor’s simpering smile totally and utterly defeated me.

I was burning. I knew that I could not  lie down and accept defeat because then my “limitation” would win. I revamped my college efforts, and eventually accepted a track scholarship to Cabrini College, where I spent four magnificent years growing into a woman that I can be proud of. After the track team was cut for budgetary reasons, I focused on social justice and become involved in one of the most active socially just colleges in the country. My freshmen year, I started insulin pump therapy, which gave me an entirely new outlook on living with diabetes and I threw myself into the service of others.

As I sat on the concrete ground of a school yard in Ecuador, with a child on each knee, I thought about how lucky I was to have had such a woman in my life. The devastation of what happened in high school propelled me to do my best and seek out my interests. As Josue fingered the tubing coming out of my pocket, I gently explained to him in broken Spanish what it was. He hugged me tight, taking my breath away, and stood at the gate each day to hug me as we came in to the school. After coming back to the States, the fire that had been lit for helping others had become a bonfire of passion, and I began filling out applications for year long service opportunities.

I graduated in 2012 with two bachelor degrees, and my teaching certification along with high honors and accolades from the honors college. I was accepted by the Mercy Volunteer Corps and was missioned to the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation in rural Arizona. I spent the year after graduation teaching high school U.S. Government, Psychology, and working as a part time secretary.Now, I am in grad school full time and working in a high school in North Philadelphia as I study to become a Reading Specialist.

I still have diabetes, and unless science has a breakthrough, I will always have diabetes. What I don’t have are limitations. My ability to serve others and to teach- those are something that diabetes cannot take away from me. They are something an outdated counselor cannot take away from. My biggest “limitation” was not my endocrine system, it was my inability to believe in myself. Once I overcame that fear, I realized that there was nothing that could stop me from reaching for the stars.

From the streets of Ecuador, to the hogans of the Navajo Nation, to my cluttered classroom in Philadelphia, there is nothing that can limit me. Have insulin pump; will travel.    

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