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OPINION: How a little boy taught me about humility and compassion

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Marg Johnson

I once had the honour of working with a boy who was a poster child for Toronto’s Sick Kid’s Hospital.

Marg Johnson

He wore braces on his legs and feet, had a damaged right hand, and scars on his body from cancer surgery. He should have been helpless.

But he’d relearned how to hold a pencil with his left hand, and he worked harder than his friends at running, gym time, and playing outdoors. In his shoes, I’d have been in a fetal position on the floor.

Enter his parents, two of the most compassionate, honest, empathetic, enthusiastic people I’ve ever met. They had obviously worked hard with Paul (name changed) and loved him so much because he was an absolute joy to be around.

Paul was stubborn beyond belief. If he didn’t want to put his snow pants on, there wasn’t much you could do but wait him out. What fights we had about that.

There was so much he couldn’t do. But I was determined to give him as much “normalcy” as possible. One winter I asked Administration if he could bring a small plastic sled to school, so I could pull him around and let him slide down the hill like the other kids without sleds. What a wonderful time we had!

When Admin killed that because other students were bringing their sleds to school, I discussed it with Paul. We decided I could help him scramble up the hill, then pull him by the legs down to the bottom.

After recess I was exhausted, but he gleefully joined the others in moaning about the snow up his back and how wet his mittens were — just like his friends.

One morning, during art, we were discussing agriculture. Our assignment was to draw a “farm” and all the animals. Sitting across from Paul was André, the class artist.

Over the years together Paul had come to know art wasn’t my strong suit. We both looked at André’s picture. It had a barn with a rooster in the haymow. Through the open barn doors you could clearly see the horses, their heads hanging, gazing out from the stalls.

Paul turned to me. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings Ms. J.,” he said earnestly. “But we know you’re not that good at drawing, and that’s OK.”

I nodded, ruefully.

“Cause nobody’s good at everything. You’re AWESOME at music and bells but art’s just not your thing. So I’m gonna ask André to draw my barn, OK?”

He said this so matter-of-factly, so calmly, it was obvious it was something he heard regularly. Yes, it was OK.

In that one small moment with Paul I learned a big lesson about humility and compassion, about empathy and caring. I will never, ever forget him.

At the age of 12 the cancer caught up with him. Rest in peace, Paul.


Sarnia’s resident Marg Johnson is a retired Certified Child & Youth Worker who worked with behaviour children as an educational assistant at the York Catholic District School Board.

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