Today’s guest author shares a special place in Annie’s and my heart. He studied here as a student last Spring and has become a dear friend ever since. Mitch Catalano is currently a senior at Loyola University Chicago. He is one of the bravest young men I have met. He wears his heart on his sleeve and loves without hesitation. He is EVERYONE’S friend. It would be hard to find a more genuine person than Mitch. He would go out of his way to give anyone in need the shirt off his back. And Annie is absolutely in love with him. (It must be all that facial hair!)
To give you a tiny glimpse of the type of guy he is I’ll share my favorite Matt and Mitch story. (Matt is Mitch’s best friend who studied here also, they are joined at the hip, and he is just as stellar of a guy as Mitch!) At the end of the semester when all the students were packing their bags to head back to the states, Matt and Mitch were headed off for another 10 or so days of travel with their last two days to be spent back in the Eternal City that they had spent the past four months falling in love with. And for those last two days, instead of heading out for one last gelato from their favorite gelateria, or visiting their favorite piazzas one last time; they chose to spend both of their final days abroad in my living room with Annie. They watched her favorite movie, the Muppets, with her and laughed with her at all her favorite parts. I told them they were crazy, but they assured me that there was no other way they would want to end their time here than with a few more moments with her. We miss you guys!
Thanks, Mitch, for this heartfelt post. You are the greatest and we know love will always follow you wherever you go!
When one travels abroad you encounter many things. Different cultures offer such a broad variety of new customs, languages, and behaviors, that a person could never properly prepare themselves for. It is a time to let oneself let go of everything they knew before and become an open palate for life to paint on.
I can tell you that my palate was certainly wiped clean when I first arrived in Rome in early January of this year. I was prepared to learn everything possible about Italian culture. The language, the cuisine, the everyday workings of Italian life. It seemed as if the list would be endless and it was. While all of these new experiences filled my head, I found that there was still something missing. Some part of me was not yet fulfilled by this amazing experience.
I realized that this part was my heart. There was so much longing inside me that I had to do away with. I contemplated on what more I could do to fulfill this desire and, as life would have it, I was able to find it in the last place I would have looked for it.
That place was in the eyes and heart of Annie Beazley. The love she was able to illustrate is one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed. So amazing that it is even difficult to describe. She showed it with her beautiful smile, her clapping, and her desire for constant physical contact. She shared it by imitating our every action, touching our faces, and shouting joyously every time she was held or gently flung into the air.
The truly incredible thing was how her love was entirely selfless. She always gave more to others than she ever asked for herself. Certainly she was given so much love and care from everyone she met; however, those who knew Annie best agreed that they never could truly repay her for what she had given them. For me, she proved that love was not an intangible thing we all try to attain throughout our lives. It was tangible, it was attainable, and it existed all around us. All we had to do was open our hearts like Annie did hers and we could find it.
The lessons Annie taught us all helped me find some of the most important relationships I had ever come across. Friends, mentors, confidants, and a romantic partnership that I will not forget until my dying day. All these people filled a void I had left open for so long and it was Annie’s shining example that gave me the courage to do so.
I hope the readers of this blog and those who know Annie best can and will take this as an example of how people should never be defined by the physical attributes assigned to them. As Mom always used to tell me, it’s about what’s on the inside that really matters. I truly believe that those who have experienced Down Syndrome in their life know this to be true. Individuals born with the condition have an emotional intelligence that surpasses any “normal” individual I have ever met. They are in no way less fortunate. They can still feel what “normal people” feel, think what “normal people” think, and function as an important part of all our lives.
If nothing else, let’s remember that every human being has a reason for their lives and should never be defined by the physical attributes they have or lack. Whether entirely healthy or affected by Down’s Syndrome, every person has a gift they share with us and we should all recognize these. Annie’s gift is illustrating to us what love really is and what it really means. For me, the picture that was painted by my time abroad was completed by her gift and for that I will be forever grateful. I love you, Annie, and I know you love me too.