Today I had the honour of presenting a session at the Canadian Down Syndrome Society's annual general conference here in Halifax. Not doing the keynote was a bit of a treat, so I was able to sit back and relax and watch it all unfold. I heard an excited, 'Hi Dave' from a Kelly, a fellow with Down Syndrome from the interior of British Columbia. I've met him a number of times and he rushed over to catch up. Again, I was taken with how much life he is living when I know so little was predicted for him.
I asked if he flew from Kelowna and he answered, with Down Syndrome exactness (does anyone else know what I mean) 'No, I flew from Kelowna to Vancouver, from Vancouver to Calgary and then from Calgary to Halifax.' Wow, that's a lot of flying. I shouldn't have done it, I know (I came from an era where people with disabilities weren't allowed to even dream of independent travel) but I asked if he'd come on his own and he said, confused, 'Yes.'
He told me, briefly of his involvement in a self advocate group and his work on medical issues and access to medical care for people with Down Syndrome. He spoke with the clarity of a seasoned advocate. Kelly knew who he was, what he was talking about and the importance of the issue. Wow, encore.
Then after he left me and was returning to his seat a young father was walking his little boy with Down Syndrome. Walking was still an adventure of teeter and fall for the little boy but he was putting his whole effort into it. At one point the boy looked like he was going to fall over and Kelly, as quick as magic, put his finger out for the boy to grab. Then Kelly, the boy and Dad walked a few steps until the little one found his footing again.
Never was a picture more perfect. That little hand with it's tiny fingers holding on to the hand of an elder in his community. That little boy will walk in the path that Kelly made. That little boy will go to places because a thousand Kelly's already gained ground for him. That little boy will owe much to the love of his parents but he will owe much to his other family. The family of people with Down Syndrome. The people who have integrated schools, depopulated institutions, embraced community. That little hand held on for dear life ... a life he'd already been given by two parents and a hundred thousand brothers and sisters.