Guest post by Wills Levy, age 14
I learned many lessons I thought I would never have to learn at such a young age when my brother, Andrew was diagnosed with cancer. While most five year olds were deciding what toy they liked best, and who should decide what to play with on a playdate, I was experiencing challenges at a level most people don’t experience until they are adults. I had to mature rapidly, living without one or both of my parents for long stretches of time as they supported Andrew at the hospital. Most crucially, I was without one of my two siblings at the time, and my roommate whom I had spent so much time with from the day he was born. While I wish I didn’t have to learn the lessons I ended up learning at such a young age, I hope the lessons I learned can be understood and applied by people without experiencing what I did.
The most influential of these lessons was the value of every moment. Whether that meant an opportunity to be with my family, a sports game, or recently an opening to run for student council within my school, I tried to take advantage of every opportunity. I saw how so many people squander opportunities because they don’t understand that it might be their last. I had to utilize every opportunity I could to spend time with my brother as he was dying, and so now I approached everything with the same mentality.
Yet, as you might assume, other kids weren’t equipped with that mentality at that age. As a result, I yelled at many 7 year olds during soccer games for not running hard enough, or not playing to the best of their capabilities. I don’t blame them, I struggled with the disconnect between me and my normal peers. While I innately couldn’t process how NOT giving your best was possible, these kids had no reason to have learned that lesson. Paradoxically, I understood the value of every opportunity, yet I struggled to understand how others weren’t as mature until I got older.
However, the difference between when I was five and now was that other peers my age were actually experiencing trauma as well. I was able to relate to the trauma of friends who lost their homes and family members to the fire, and was able to empathize with them. Whilst talking, I also felt like they could understand the lessons I learned from my experiences with trauma, and the previous disconnect I felt with them shrunk. Now, they could also understand the value of every opportunity, and my intense obsession with taking advantage of every moment was now relatable to them.
I wish that I hadn’t learned the lessons I did, as my brother died when I was just a child. I wish that my friends never had to experience trauma, and I desperately wish they still weren’t able to empathize with me. Yet, the traumas that come with life happen, for some people earlier than others. Those who have learned the important lessons that come from horrific personal experience need to communicate them to those who haven’t. I’m glad I maximize every opportunity, as I now understand it is the key to living a fulfilling life.