I had an astonishing insight. Astonishing. Now that I've had it, I wonder if I've really always known, but I don't think so. Not like I do now. And it happened in the lobby of a hotel.
Joe and I were checking out of the hotel where I'd been speaking at and attending the Canadian Down Syndrome Annual Conference. There was a small problem with my bill so I ended up having to wait as they tried to find a charge and add it to the tab. Joe went ahead to help with loading the car and I sat quietly looking around the lobby.
Here's what I saw:
Two little girls playing around the big overstuffed chairs. They were bewteen four and five. They both were blond. Both had pigtails. I saw only one face, as the other was across from her playmate with her back to me. The face I saw was a chubby, dimpled, smiling one. Too, it was the face of someone with Down Syndrome. But I smiled because of the joy the two girls were experiencing at play. One of them had a small green change purse and it was the center of all their activity. The world did not exist for either of them outside the small ring in which they interacted. I watched and envied, as adults often do, the ability to shrink the world to fit just you and yours, the ability to play freely and laugh easily. Others smiled at them similarly. I caught the eyes of others watching, we all grinned. All knew what each other was thinking.
Then, as I was still waiting, a woman - prosperous in her 30's stopped to ask something at the desk she looked over and caught sight of the scene that I have described to you. Her face crumbled into sadness, 'Poor little mite' she said. I was startled in that I haven't heard a child refered to as a mite in ... well ever. I didn't know for sure what it meant. But there was no mistaking the 'poor little ...
I looked back over and tried, really tried to see what she saw.
Here's what I saw:
Mom came over and little girl in pink, the one who's face I'd seen, lifted her arms. Mom swung her up and hugged her, gave her a peck on the cheek and then set her back down into her world of play. Entirely natural, entirely normal, completely unremarkable.
I glanced back and saw the look of sadness remain unchanged. My attention was called by the clerk and I signed off on the bill and began pushing myself over to the car. Joe magically appeared and he got me over to the door. The 'poor mite' woman was ther and I stopped and said, 'I'm sorry, I over heard you remarking about the child in the lobby, what did you mean 'poor mite'.
She looked at me startled at being spoken to, startled at being overheard, she said, not brusquely but not friendly, 'Well, didn't you SEE?'
Obviously she saw something very different than I did. She was looking at a scene through the eyes of someone confirming bias. But then, so was I. She was looking at the scene with prejudices firmly in place. But then, so was I. I don't think I ever really realized how different eyes can see the same thing so differently.
Seeing, as it turns out, isn't believing. Seeing is simply confirming. What would that child have had to do in order to be smiled at ... perhaps even valued? I think, nothing. Her existance as a person with a disability eliminates the possiblity, in the mind of some, of worth.
Poor mite ... well, I pray she one day might ... be valued and loved just for being exactly who she is ... exactly who she becomes ... exactly who she might be. I pray that she be seen, really seen, for who she is, not through the filter of prejudice and preconception.
Pity does not erase potential, it just makes victory a little more tasty.