We Are Not Defined by Our Challenges

We Are Not Defined by Our Challenges

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Sometimes, I’ll admit, I’m a little late to the party. This is especially true for entertainment. I mean, who has the time, when there’s so much to do, right? Still, I eventually catch on when something in the entertainment world is remarkable, and since I was recently catching up on entertainment from 2019, I saw something that made an impression on me. It reminded me of the beauty and power of the human spirit to overcome any obstacles. It reminded me that we all have gifts, and that the world is a more magnificent place when those gifts are nurtured and shared. Most importantly, it reminded me that no matter how difficult our challenges may be, we are not defined by our challenges.

Most of us have heard of or watched the show America’s Got Talent. I recently watched a YouTube clip from 2019 of a young Korean American contestant on the show named Kodi Lee. Before his performance, Kodi stood onstage beside his mom, white cane in hand. Kodi didn’t seem like the “typical” contestant in such a high-stress environment. In addition to being blind, he is also autistic.

I was so touched by the way his mom introduced her son. She said that as her son grew and she saw his love of music blossom, she recognized that her son was an entertainer. How remarkable! She didn’t let her son’s challenges limit her ability to see his potential.

And what potential! When Kodi sat down at the piano and played and sang, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. He has a powerful voice and a gentle but certain touch on the piano. What I loved most is the way that single performance exploded the myth that since people with autism often don’t communicate their emotions to others, that must mean they don’t feel things the way neurotypical people do. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Watching him perform, it was as if I could see his heart, and it was positively dazzling.

Silhouette of a human head with music notes coming out of it in a cloud. We are more than the sum of our challenges.

According to his website (Kodi Lee Website), Kodi possesses an audio photographic memory. This means that when he has heard a piece of music once, he remembers every detail perfectly.

My wife and I discussed afterward that in far too many instances, a child with these challenges would have been institutionalized. That has happened countless times in the past, and still happens today. How tragic! But Kodi’s family never stopped believing in who their son was as a person and in his ability to find a meaningful place in this world.

In his play As You Like It, Shakespeare wrote “All the world’s a stage.” If that’s the case, how can we as parents and as a community be watchful of ways to recognize and nurture the gifts and talents of our younger generations? Taking a lesson from the parents of Kodi Lee is a great place to start.

Photograph of an empty stage with elaborately draped red velvet curtains. We are more than the sum of our challenges.

Oh, and what happened to Kodi Lee after his audition? After the Golden Buzzer and many successful and touching performances later, he won Season 14. The takeaway? Whether you or your loved ones have autism, sensory challenges, dyslexia, or anything else, don’t let that stop you from dreaming big dreams and making them happen. After all, we are not defined by our challenges.

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