Differences are Wonderful

The following speech won 1st place in the JHS Prefectural Speech Contest 2005. It was written by Risa Satō from Miwa Junior High School.

Differences are Wonderful

"The handicapped." What comes to your mind when you hear the word? Do you feel sorry for these people? Or do you think they are different from you? That's how I felt until recently.
I have a cousin two years younger than I am. She once was handicapped. Her left leg was congenitally shorter than the right one. In spite of the handicap, she could run very fast. When she was ten, the difference between her legs became as long as four centimetres. Without proper treatment, it could have deformed her spine. Her doctor advised her to have an operation immediately. She was scared, but she knew she had to have it. This kind of operation was very scary. First her thigh bone was cut in the middle. Then metal fittings were set in the bones to gradually make her left thigh the same length as the right one. It took a few months for the bone to grow to its new length. She had to be in the hospital for a year for rehabilitation. It was a very hard time for her because she couldn't see her parents and friends often. But the most disappointing thing for her was that she couldn't run or even walk with her own legs. "How horrible for her!" I thought.But she never cried nor complained.
About a year later, I entered a junior high school and joined the track and field club. One day some of my friends made fun of me about my short legs. I didn't care about it because I knew it was a joke. But after the track meet in which I couldn't run very fast, I suddenly remembered the joke and though, "I could run faster if my legs were longer." I seriously thought I wanted long legs. I even blamed my mother for giving me bad genes. And the next thing I though was that I wanted to be operated on like my cousin to make my legs longer. Then my mother told me that my cousin cried many times from the pain and anxiety after the operation, and that she clenched her teeth to endure the long and hard rehabilitation though she never showed me such a face. I didn't know that. How stupid I was to think I wanted to be operated on! My cousin was trying harder than I could imagine. I couldn't run fast just because I didn't practice enough and I gave up too quickly. I was ashamed of myself and wanted to apologize to my cousin.
Looking back on myself, I have always been afraid of being different from others and too quick to attribute my faults to someone else. But that was wrong. Every person has different abilities. Some of those people we call "handicapped" can do many things that I cannot. I think that a handicap is like a personality or a character trait. As Mr. Ototake Hirotada, who was born with no arms and legs, says, a handicap may cause us inconvenience but it doesn't mean unhappiness. I think he is right. The most important thing is to accept the present situation and do the best that we can.
Before my cousins operation I could talk about anything with her. But when I first met her after the operation, I couldn't find the words to say to her because I felt she was different. But was she really different? No. Only my thoughts about her were.
We meet very many people in our lives. The people I meet today are different from me. But are the differences bad? I don't think so. From these very differences we can learn a lot of new things. Differences are wonderful, aren't they?
My cousin finished a long rehabilitation and her legs are completely healed. She enjoys swimming and running, things she once though she could never do again. She's inspiring. The next time I face difficulty, I will remember my cousin and do the best that I can.

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