if it were mine

When I was in high school I worked as a lifeguard at several community pools. It was at one of those pools when I first encountered a child with Down syndrome.

I don’t remember his name, and his age was unclear, but I suppose he was a teenager. He'd appear often on the pool deck, drop his towel, whip off his shirt and take a running dive—more like a painful belly-flop—into the water. He’d swim flat-out with windmill arms for about ten lengths before hopping out, beet red. Then he’d dry off, don his shirt and exit as swiftly as he had arrived. I have thought of him often over the years wondering what his parents were like, who his friends were and what he liked to do besides swim.

Throughout my college years I continued to meet a handful of other youths and adults with Down syndrome, mostly at grocery stores, bagging my food items or retrieving carts with what seemed to me great care and pride. I happily engaged with them if they showed any interested.

And while watching the film Fried Green Tomatoes nearly twenty years ago I was quite moved during a particular scene. In it, Jessica Tandy plays Ninny Threadgoode, an old woman living in a nursing home who, at one point wearing a bright smile, talks about her child in a soft southern drawl:

"When he was born, the doctor said it would be best if I didn't see him. He said his mind wouldn't develop past the age of five, and I should put him in an institution, because the burden of raisin' a child like that would be too great."

She went on to say:

"I smiled at him and I asked for the baby. Why, from the minute he was born, Albert was the joy of my life. The Lord's greatest gift. I don't believe there was a purer soul on this earth. I had him with me til' he was 30. Then he went to sleep and he didn't wake up. Sometimes I can't wait to get to Heaven to see him again."

That scene left an enduring impression on me though it would be years before I had a child of my own.

My observations and encounters—and subsequently the film scene—came together into a kind of mosaic that compelled me to ask myself, even as a young person, “what if I had a child with Down syndrome?” I wondered if I might become depressed, fall into a downward spiral and plunge deep into a black despair. Might I run away or kill myself? My answer was always a resounding “no.”

No, I wouldn't. I'd remain the hopelessly optimistic person I have always been. I would prove to be a wonderful mother to this child. He would become the light of my life and I would help him realize his full potential. I would love him for all of his features unique to him.

Thinking back, I am thankful that these questions occurred to me. I have no idea whether my peers pondered these same kind of realities. Calvin doesn't have Down syndrome but was I having some sort of premonition about him? I don’t think so. My query might be more adequately explained by the fact that I have always thought it paramount to consider the life of another and wonder how it would be if it were mine.

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE to read your blog! Please continue sharing these beautiful thoughts...