I remember the look of disgust in their eyes. For a moment I saw myself as my aunt and uncle saw me — a scrawny, crippled-looking four year old boy with a deformed right arm. But I could not accept that image. I knew that, just like every other child born with birth defects, I was more than what I appeared.
I saw what they meant to my parents. They thought they had to save me from the hardships that the disabled suffer in Korea. Bullying and ostracism are bad enough there that suicide is endemic among the disabled. To protect me, my parents sacrificed their former lives. They left behind their friends, family, and jobs to give me a chance.
I was painfully aware of the enormous debt that I owed to my parents. In Korea, my father held a high paying white-collar business job; however, because he could not speak English, my father struggled to find a job to support us. In the end, the only job that he could find was that of cleaning other people’s swimming pools. Every morning, he awoke before the sun rose, and at night, he came home smelling of heat, chlorine, sweat, and exhaustion. I would always wait for him to come home, and the guilt and appreciation I felt were overwhelming feelings each time.
Throughout my childhood, I worked to repay this debt. I studied feverishly so that I could act as a better translator for my parents and to show them that I was aware of their sacrifices. Every day, I would sit in front of our rickety dining table, flipping through books, solving grammar texts, and trying to commit to memory every English word I could.
At the same time, I fought to show others that my deformed arm did not hinder me. I began to play sports. I struggled at first with my malformed right arm, and I was always picked last for teams.
However such obstacles only added oil to my fire. I spent countless hours carving my shots and refining my dribbles. Over time, I was able to gracefully perform crossovers with one arm as well as shoot with accuracy. Despite everyone’s expectations, I became one of the better players in my grade.
In the course of these actions, I came to understand what my deformed arm meant. I see now that it was but an opportunity to become myself. Experience has taught me that I can be my own self and that I do not have to let the perspectives of others drag me down. I can thrive in any environment or situation I find myself. This is the insight that I would like to share with others. Far from being a restriction, my arm is a key that opens doors for me, introducing me to a world of experiences that many people will never be able to feel. My arm is but an extension of my life and my potential.