In the previous post, I revealed my reasons for volunteering at The Pujols Family Foundation. In this one, I want to share with you why I intentionally choose to direct my energies toward folks with Down's Syndrome.
Besides the obvious fact that my Aunt Riesa, whom I love, was born with Trisomy-21 (the genetic marker for Down's), I spent a number of years working in a variety of settings in what used to be called the MR/DD field (mental retardation/developmental disability). I worked in classroom, residential, and workshop settings and I loved every minute of it.
From those experiences I am going to paint the DS population with a broad brush, highlighting some common characteristics, much as we would if we said that "children" possess an unequaled sense of delight and wonder. Or that "the elderly" are forgetful. Or that "teenagers" are self-absorbed. My intention is not to diminish their individuality, but to highlight the shared characteristics that cause me to LOVE their company.
1) The Way Things Are
People with DS are refreshingly honest and forgiving.
I'll never forget, at an event a few months ago, I was meeting a young lady for the first time. She told me, "My name is Sheila. This is my boyfriend, Rob. Over there, [pointing unashamedly]...that's Daniel. He used to be my boyfriend, but then he started dating JoAnn. But now Rob is my boyfriend...he loves me and he's good to me. Aren't you, Rob?" BOOM. Lay it all out there. Rob was standing by for her commentary and was completely nonplussed by it. As Daniel wandered over our way, she introduced him and repeated her story...and all the involved parties were alright with it. After all, she was just telling me the way things are. WE WOULD NEVER DO THAT. But why not? Yes, there is a certain maturity and dignity in protecting our and other's privacy, but there is also something gloriously refreshing about just telling it like it is without any desire to gossip or harm another's reputation. I suggest that, for us, guarding our pride is just as important as guarding our own or another's privacy. But DS people are not proud. They are not interested in gaining reputation or status, or in being viewed as superior to or more "together" or holier than anyone else. The combination of humility and innocent honesty IS A BEAUTIFUL THING to behold!
2) The Way You Are
DS folks are also infinitely accepting of others. In spite of almost certain experiences of rejection in their own lives, they don't reject others but readily offer love and acceptance to all. They don't calculate the risks. They don't evaluate whether or not you're worthy of being welcomed into their fold. They take you just the way you are and don't try to change you. Yes, this makes them vulnerable...but again, there's a real beauty in an open spirit who is not cynical about others and who trusts easily.
3) Drama! Drama! Drama!
These folks experience life as intensely emotional. Perhaps it's because they don't process everything through a fine mesh intellectual grid like many of us do, nor do they rationalize away their emotions. Experiencing life in this way, of course, leads to some serious drama!
If their heart is in turmoil, they WILL tell you about it. If they are full of exuberance, it will bubble out and spill onto everyone around them. They have a lot of Best & Worst Days. The lovely thing is, today's Worst Day status says nothing about tomorrow, as there's an unspoken, perpetual expectation that tomorrow has a ripping good chance of being a Best Day.
None of this is said to sterilize the reality that Down's Syndrome is a result of something gone wrong in the genetic makeup and that it brings moments of genuine heartache - when a parent first learns and realizes that her child will never marry...when other children poke fun at a DS child...when they need surgery and don't understand the pain they're experiencing, etc. DS is one result of living in a broken and fallen world. I'm not sugar-coating it.
Nor am I attempting to assert that people with DS have some sort of theological immunity from sin and are therefore always happy and pleasant and forgiving. No. But they are much less prone to social sins than the rest of us (and really...aren't social sins the majority of sins??). When they sin or act selfishly, it is rarely with malicious intent and they retain a sort of innocence about them that is unique and well...special. My experience is that these people exude joy and they bring SO MUCH JOY to those around them.
So there you have it...I love the innocent honesty, the readiness to accept others, the drama, the abundance of expressed and transmitted joy to everyone in their path. Their way of living illuminates flaws in my own life and provides an example of ways I can live differently.
I love people with Down's Syndrome and That's Why I'm Here.