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When friends are much more than what others may see

He is a 16-year-old boy, and when you look at us simply as people, there is no difference; we are equal, two friends who share common interests.

We talk about how our day went, listening and communicating through more than words. Once you fill in the details, however, the prejudice comes rushing in like the tide, engulfing an amazing human being in a world separate from the one he fits perfectly into now. This is my neighbor and one of my closest friends, a person no different to me than any other, one who has taught me the art of patience and sincerity, molding the person I am today. This is Christopher.

Christopher was born with an unknown disease, one no doctor could explain. He possessed the average forty-six chromosomes and appeared to have no brain damage, yet something was wrong. His mind grows at a stalled rate, yet he has made vast strides in his education. In spite of what countless people assume when I tell them about him, Christopher can talk.

I have had the joy of hearing him say "daddy," "Barbara," a family friend, and "Ashley," his older sister. Christopher has no need for words though; he speaks through sign language and his own form of verbal communication, which over time, I have become fluent in.

While he cannot attend the same school as me, Christopher does well, learning to spell and do mathematics at the rate his mind can handle.

I have been Christopher's neighbor since we were born, only two weeks apart, but began to interact with him constantly around age 12. At first, I didn't know what to think of him; I had no understanding of his expressions — a mixture of hands and sounds — and chose to ignore conversation with him. But over time, I adapted to his ways, and a friendship began to grow.

One activity Christopher and I enjoy above all else is shooting hoops in the court. This time allowed me to gain understanding of who he is. The basketball hoop was where Christopher went from being my neighbor, to being my friend, to being one of the most important people to me. I saw how he conveyed his emotions, his contagious smile and laughter, his dive into confusion when he signals "no" and gazes into space, and his look of distress followed by the cupping of his ears and the shutting of his eyes to block out a sound he doesn't wish to hear. I have witnessed more emotions fill Christopher's eyes, more feelings spark from his hands then I have seen from any other person I have met.

To me, Christopher is more than what people see.

He is not retarded, or even slow for that matter. Rather he is a present, a gift from God above, brought to earth to teach us that what you see is not what you get, that people are more than what they can tell you with their words.

He teaches us that even those who doctors classify as "mentally challenged" can enlighten those deemed fit to function in society; that despite what you may think, there is more to a person than your first interaction; that their life alone may be enough to change yours as Christopher has done to mine.


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