Sunday, April 20, 2014

Now here’s what’s important

By Ryan Nishikawa

I’ve recently been dealing with some heartbreaking news. Thomas, my adorable little brother, no longer has any friends. No one in his new class has reached out to support him. The people who used to call themselves his friends have abandoned him.

Before I say more about Thomas’ difficulty with making and keeping friends, I want to say something about him as a person. Thomas is different from most kids. He’s smart and kind and compassionate. But he also has social difficulties other kids don’t. You’ve probably had experiences and confrontations with people like him.

Imagine the kid from your class who talked in a way that was difficult for you to understand. That kid who could become so emotional at the strangest things, the slightest things. That is my little brother. Though it’s challenging for him, he tries incredibly hard to be sociable. But when he tries to be sociable, people label him as “weird” or “creepy.”

My family hoped that Thomas would grow out of these problems. We all hoped he would find friends who could see past his differences. But it didn’t work out the way we’d hoped. Most people establish friendships for selfish reasons. This isn’t necessarily anyone’s fault. I’m not blaming anyone. I doubt most people take the time to ask themselves whether the friendships they have are selfish or unselfish. But the kids in my little brother’s class have decided a friendship with him would only drag them down.

I think I see the reason for this. Thomas only has the ability to think about himself when he has an interaction. He has a difficult time understanding another person’s perspective. When you talk with him, it can feel like he’s trying to dominate every aspect of the conversation. He has a hard time hearing another person’s opinions. And most people don’t want to take the time to hear what the “weird kid in the class” has to say. This is a shame because Thomas really has a lot of entertaining and educational things to share.

The reason I’m writing this essay is because Thomas recently had an emotional breakdown when he realized he had no friends. Everyone in my family tried to comfort him. My Mom, my Dad, my sister all tried to talk to him, but it was no use. Although Thomas and I have difficulties communicating, I decided to try to speak to him.

When Thomas told me about his problems I burst into tears. It wasn’t only because of Thomas’ problems with friendships, I began to cry because I realized I knew exactly what he was feeling. And I knew what he was feeling because I have a lot of the same problems that Thomas has.

I used to be that “weird kid” in class who no one took the time to understand. I used to be the kid who could become emotional about the strangest things. When I tried to be sociable, other people would call me “creepy.” I was terrible at carrying on conversations. I was overly sensitive. I dragged my friends down. And then most of the people I knew stopped being my friends.

I went through periods where it felt like nobody cared about what happened to me. I would fall down and no one would help me up. I would cry and no one would turn to look. All the days I hurt it felt like no one in the world wanted to help me.

I cried for Thomas because I understand how it feels to be “unwanted” by the majority of our society. I understand how it feels to stand in a room filled with people and no one wants to waste their time talking with you.

Here is what I said to Thomas: I told him that I am just like he is. People like us have to work harder at friendships than we’re comfortable with. We have to be stronger and more resilient. No one is going to give us anything. No one is going to seek out our friendship. No one is going to take the extra effort to understand kids like us. That effort will have to be ours. This is what I wanted him to understand.

Now here is what’s important. Thomas, if you’re reading this, I’m going to tell you the most important thing. You are not alone. There are people out there, people you haven’t met yet, and they are waiting to become your friends. There are people out there who will have the patience to accept you. I promise. You are a great person. Sometimes you don’t know how to express your greatness, but someday soon you will learn how.

Someday soon you will stand in the sun with people you love and who truly, genuinely love you back. I know all of these things are true because it happened for me. I worked hard to change myself into a person who could listen as well as speak. Eventually I began to make friends again. Sometimes all of this effort is really tough. Sometimes you are going to want to give up. But never let go of an opportunity to have friends. And remember that it is the quality of friendships that matters and not the quantity.

Now to those of you out there who aren’t my little brother, and happen to be reading this, please give him a hug. Try to give him your patience and compassion and understanding. He needs someone other than me to tell him that everything will be fine. He needs people outside his family to see his greatness and his genius.

I know that, if given the chance, Thomas will be five times more successful in this world than I will be. I believe that without a doubt. Tell him that he is not alone and never will be, because he needs that more than anything else.

— Ryan Nishikawa is a sophomore at Davis High School. His brother Thomas is a fourth-grader at Birch Lane Elementary School.

Special to The Enterprise


Discussion | 36 comments

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  • September 16, 2013 - 4:19 pm

    Very well written, Ryan. This is such an important reminder to all of us.

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  • September 16, 2013 - 4:20 pm

    Here is a hug for you. Things will get better.

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  • Sheila AllenSeptember 16, 2013 - 4:42 pm

    Ryan and Thomas-I am sending you both a virtual hug and I will give you a real one the next time I see you. Ryan, you are an amazing brother and person. Thank you so much for sharing your own and your brother's experiences. I hope lots of people (kids, parents, teachers, school board members) learn from it.

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  • EigoSeptember 16, 2013 - 4:51 pm

    I truly enjoyed this story. especially the part about Ryan giving his younger brother advise on what's really important about friendships.

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  • Alison BroaddusSeptember 16, 2013 - 8:42 pm

    Ryan, Your words are a powerful reminder for all of us. Thomas is lucky to have you as a role model. Your parents and sister should be proud of you. Thank you for sharing this with our community.

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  • Pam PetersenSeptember 16, 2013 - 8:48 pm

    I will share this essay and in turn it will be shared by others. What a powerful powerfully written. Thank you.

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  • JSeptember 16, 2013 - 8:50 pm

    Great Job Ryan, words to always remember!

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  • SomeoneSeptember 16, 2013 - 10:24 pm

    One of the sweetest things I've EVER read. Thank you, Ryan, for your incredible compassion and love :) Hopefully I can learn to do the same thing

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  • Tom LockerSeptember 17, 2013 - 9:40 am

    Excellent writing Ryan.

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  • Heidy KellisonSeptember 17, 2013 - 10:43 am

    A beautiful statement for change. Courageous and correct. Thank you!!!

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  • David LacySeptember 17, 2013 - 10:48 am

    I can relate Ryan and Thomas. I was friendless -- literally -- through the end of junior high. This piece is beautifully written, insightful, and tremendously important. You are doing the right thing by both supporting your brother personally, and reaching out (in writing) to others. Keep it up!

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  • jkclemensSeptember 17, 2013 - 11:05 am

    Ryan, this is as important a message as I have read in a long time. You are a fine young man, a wonderful brother and I we are all lucky that you live in our town. -Jake Clemens

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  • Denise HoffnerSeptember 17, 2013 - 11:17 am

    Ryan, you touched my heart with your compassion and your brother's sorrow. I will repost your beautiful essay to share your message. I'm sorry the community hasn't been able to express the kind of connection that heals, but know that there is a lot of love here for you and your family.

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  • Hannah Sasson-CokelySeptember 17, 2013 - 11:57 am

    My daughter often feels the same way and is often called "weird" so we tell her that it is just because they do not want to take the time to get to know her but true friends always will!!

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  • Tracy JohnsonSeptember 17, 2013 - 12:16 pm

    Powerful, Ryan, way to make us all think...But again, I've been a fan of yours since the 4th grade when you schooled me in california history. I was a clueless parent chaperone from back east ;) I will share this with my family.

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  • JenniferSeptember 17, 2013 - 1:25 pm

    Beautifully written Ryan. Thomas is so lucky to have you as an older brother and a role model. I know your parents are so proud of you both and your sister.

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  • Barbara KingSeptember 17, 2013 - 2:56 pm

    What a beautiful expression of love and compassion. Hugs to both of you.

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  • Victoria NSeptember 17, 2013 - 4:44 pm

    I love you Ryan!! I came home and read this article with mom and Thomas. Just wanted you to know. Thomas was really touched. You really made a difference for him, and everyone else. I am the most luckiest person to have you as a brother!!! <3

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  • Michelle MilletSeptember 17, 2013 - 5:35 pm

    Ryan, thanks for writing this letter. I just read it to my kids who both go to Birch Lane. I hope things get better for Thomas this year.

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  • Gen McGarvey-TanenbaumSeptember 17, 2013 - 5:42 pm

    Wow! Ryan this is, without question, one of the most moving and heartfelt tributes I have ever read. While Thomas may have struggles establishing friendships, he certainly has hit the "sibling lottery" by having you as his brother! I have no doubt that you are both wonderful young men who have much to offer to our community and to the world.

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  • Lyra HalprinSeptember 17, 2013 - 9:37 pm

    Ryan, I just want to add my deep respect for your loving heart and for your writing ability. I'm sure Thomas has many of the same qualities you have - yay for you both! We need more articulate and loving human beings in this world to help all of us understand and learn. I, too, will be sharing this.

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  • September 17, 2013 - 9:40 pm

    We need to learn to embrace differences instead of avoiding them. Thank you for your beautiful essay Ryan!

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  • SolveigSeptember 17, 2013 - 9:42 pm

    Ryan, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. It takes courage to share what you have shared, but it is absolutely necessary for our community to be reminded of the diversity of personality traits that surround us, and how must of us have something good to contribute…

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  • ASeptember 17, 2013 - 10:21 pm

    Wow. That is an amazing piece and you are even a more amazing brother. My son went and continues to go through the same thing you and Thomas have experienced. If everyone could teach their children to have the patience and compassion that you demonstrate here and try just a little harder to be a friend to everyone that needs one, this world would be a much better place.

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  • David IchikawaSeptember 17, 2013 - 10:22 pm

    Good reminder of another type of diversity (perhaps social I.Q.), which we would do well to embrace even when it stretches us. Ryan, I will try to keep in mind your parable.

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  • Janice GuoSeptember 18, 2013 - 10:04 am

    Thank you for sharing your story and Thomas's story. Here is a virtual big hug! Thomas, don't worry! I will be your friend :) hang in there buddy; things will get better, i promise!!

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  • Rebecca GreenSeptember 18, 2013 - 11:25 am

    Dear Ryan, I am very touched by your heartfelt expression of compssion. The courage to speak from your heart helps others besides your brother. Thank you!

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  • JacqueSeptember 18, 2013 - 12:25 pm

    Ryan, your letter touched me and I think that Thomas is very lucky to have you for a brother. We all need to be reminded that others are dealing with their own struggles from day to day and they need compassion and time. Your letter will help me to give those gifts. If you think that Thomas might want a furry friend (with your parents' permission and support, of course) please let me know; I can help. :o)

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  • Rod NishikawaSeptember 18, 2013 - 1:44 pm

    Jacque, What kind of furry friend?

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  • RLFSeptember 18, 2013 - 1:25 pm

    This is really sweet. I wanted to cry reading this. I hope you're brother ends up making friends, he deserves it after what he's been through and going through, everyone deserves someone they can reach out to for support.

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  • ginny forrestallSeptember 18, 2013 - 6:03 pm

    Thomas, everything will be fine! You are very lucky to have a smart brother. He is right, things will change and you WILL make friends! You are a great boy! Here is a hug from me. HUG! You are not alone. A lot of people feel like this, I know I did, and things will change for you, too. Love, Ginny

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  • September 20, 2013 - 9:20 am

    Ryan, Your story is very impressive, and I really appreciate your insights to remind us something we forget in our society. Thomas is very luck to have you as his brother. Jeannie, and Rod, you must be proud of Ryan. Good job!

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  • Dr. Richard Portalupi, Portalupi OrthodonticsSeptember 19, 2013 - 12:40 pm

    Ryan, the power of a skilled writer is to move people in a way that thier emotions are stirred and and thier behavior is changed in a positive way. You have done both extremely well. I predict a very successful future for you where your writing skills are put to good use.

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  • September 19, 2013 - 4:08 pm

    Thanks for writing this Ryan. More people need to be aware of kids like your Thomas. My son faces the same issues, and I'm going to print this for him, as he doesn't have an older brother like you.

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  • Julia LuckenbillSeptember 19, 2013 - 7:03 pm

    Ryan, I remember you as a delightful three year old member of my classroom community. You were a good friend to a little boy who needed a friend badly after his dad died. I see that same compassion and openness in your appeal today. You are the kind of person the world needs.

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  • GKRSeptember 19, 2013 - 8:58 pm

    Awesome letter, Ryan. And what a great big brother you are. I am someone like this, too. I was considered very weird and had an awful time understanding how to make friends. I spent a lot of time alone and being made fun of. But, like you, I too worked hard at listening to people and making people feel like they are interesting and in the process I learned that there is something interesting about pretty much everyone. It wasn't until college that I started really making friends. Now, I am a grown man and work in a job where I have to become friends with strangers every day. People often comment on how they wish they could talk to people the way I can, as if I've known them forever. It's something I had to learn and practice. It's actually still hard for me, but I still work at it and it brings me happiness. Thomas is going to be a wonderful person. So are you. Family is so important. My advice is that it's important to work hard at the things that you love. You will find people like you in the places where the things that you love take you. god bless.

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