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Differences don't have to hold us back

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By Leslie Moore

 

Inspired. That is the best word to describe my feelings after recently meeting and writing about two young members of our community.

The first, sixth-grader Terry Cook, was seriously burned in a fire and is still coping with the life-changing effects six years later. The second, Autumn Anderson, is a senior at Taylor County High School and will soon be heading to the NASCAR Technical Institute in North Carolina to train to become a mechanic.

I remember finding out in fourth grade that I would have to start wearing glasses and thinking my life was over. No one in my immediate family wore glasses and I was to be the only girl in my class with them. Just the thought of looking different than the other kids was enough to make me cringe.

Terry, a student at Taylor County Middle School, knows as well as anyone what it is like to look different from one’s peers. And unlike me, who could slip my glasses off when my teacher wasn’t looking, Terry had to get used to looking different all the time.

In the first few years after the accident, Terry said he didn’t fit in well with other kids and was embarrassed that his scars made him look different. But after changing schools and getting some much-needed encouragement from his family and teachers, Terry realized that being different did not have to prevent him from making friends. So instead of refusing to talk about the fire, Terry said he is now OK when other kids ask him about his scars. He said talking about his experience has given him more confidence to make friends, as well as present an opportunity to tell his peers about the dangers of playing with lighters.

In the years before I would get acquainted with contact lenses, I dreamed of finding an arrowhead.

But since I had gotten into the habit of only wearing my glasses when I needed to see what was written on the board, every time I went looking, all the rocks would blur together. It wasn’t long before I gave up and all but forgot about that dream.

Now that I’m an adult, I have developed a whole new appreciation for glasses, especially on days when I’m in a rush to get ready or if my allergies make wearing contacts uncomfortable. And although no one was able to convince the fourth-grade me that glasses can make a striking fashion statement, the grown-up me knows that a lot of people look great in glasses.

From a very young age, Autumn realized that she was a bit different than most other girls. Though she has always loved the color pink, for Autumn, racing go-karts and getting her hands dirty while helping her dad work in his garage was more fun than staying clean and playing with dolls.

But instead of worrying about the calluses forming on her hands, or that most of her friends were boys, Autumn used her uniqueness to her advantage. When she begins her much-anticipated training at the NASCAR Institute this August, Autumn will be one step closer to her dream of joining a NASCAR pit crew.  

Terry and Autumn have very different stories, but one thing we can learn from both of them is that whether it is accidental or intentional, being different is OK. And sometimes, being different can be downright wonderful.

Many years ago, I let a silly anxiety get in the way of fulfilling a childhood dream. If we didn’t let our fear of being different hold us back, just what could we accomplish? While none of us know the answer to that question, we can prevent the problem by encouraging our youth to not let fears get in the way of their dreams, no matter how big or small they may be.

Now that I can see quite well these days, I think I owe it to my 8-year-old self to give finding that arrowhead another try — just as long as I don’t have to get my hands too dirty.

To read more about Terry Cook and Autumn Anderson, see the Monday, April 22, issue of the News-Journal.