By: Staff Reports | Gwinnett Citizen
“Loving someone deeply gives you strength”  –Lao Tzu 

Perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr., said it best: “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” The Georgia Laws of Life Essay Contest recognizes the need for such “true education,” and since its inception 14 years ago the contest has been in the vanguard of providing character education for Georgia high school students.2012-2013 

The Georgia Laws of Life Essay Contest is a program of the Georgia Rotary Districts Character Education Program, Inc. (GRDCEP), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. 

The state winner is Tania Canel, a 12th grader from Roswell High School. Below please enjoy her winning essay:

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon. My mind races as we approach the parking lot of the mall, anticipating the thoughts and looks we will get from the people inside. It’s hard not being able to tell everyone how I feel and not being able to tell them what my life is really like. These are oblivious strangers and I can’t expect them to not judge me.

I slide open the door and help my younger sister get my brother’s wheelchair out of the trunk while my mom starts getting his seat belt off. I can feel it already: eyes watching as we get him ready. I can’t do anything about it. After my mom gets him in his wheelchair, I hook him up to his feeding tube. It’s time. We start for the door and I wonder if I am the only one who can feel the tension lingering in the air.

As soon as we step through the doors, I can feel all eyes on us, people turning and staring. My brother, Deandrei, doesn’t know what’s running through the strangers’ minds, but I do. They may be thinking of how sad our situation must be. These strangers don’t know how hard it is. They don’t know that the hospital is like a second home to my family. That we’ve spent holidays and birthdays in cold hospital rooms wondering if my brother was going to survive the visit. That I have spent many days waking up at 4 in the morning getting ready for school in cramped hospital bathrooms because I spent the night on a stiff sofa next to him. Each reason to visit was different from the one before: lung collapse, not eating, surgery, not breathing, lung collapse again, 45 minute seizure, not waking up, surgery, throwing up blood, seizure, pneumonia, surgery, tests, pancreatitis…

After Deandrei was born, maintaining his health became like a game of whack-a-mole: once we got past one obstacle, a new one came. Right when we thought the game was over, a new “mole” rose up. As he grew up, his conditions went from bad to worse. He was put in a wheelchair at 2 years old, he couldn’t and still can’t communicate, and he had to eat through a tube. The latter was probably the worst; for almost a year after his surgery he let out excruciating shrieks of pain that were also reflected in his eyes.

Now, as we walk through the mall, Deandrei is ten years old. All aspects of life are not what I thought they would be before my brother was born. I was forced to grow up much faster than anyone leading a “normal life” would have to. I have experienced a spectrum of emotions—such as sorrow, confusion, panic and happiness—that I didn’t know existed at such extremes. Though I have missed out on joining clubs and sports, hanging out with my friends, and vacations due to the amount of effort that it takes to even pack all of the things Deandrei needs for a simple car ride, I now know that you have to make sacrifices because “loving someone deeply gives you strength.”

As my brother and I grew older, he helped me develop into a more mature, understanding, and nonjudgmental person who I don’t think I would be if he wasn’t here. Deandrei has helped me realize that people face all kinds of problems. And despite the growing hardships and health problems, he has always had a smile on his face. I try to do the same every day and try my best at everything I do because I have the ability, potential, and privilege to, unlike my brother.

I continue through the mall with a new perspective. Although these people think our situation is sad, I think it’s blessing. Their looks remind me of how lucky I am and that’s the magic in moments like these. When I watch pitying strangers, I realize how my brother has shaped my life into something wonderful.