We fly back to Toronto from Dublin today. The 10th Down Syndrome World Congress is behind us. We spent our one day off driving along the water marvelling at the sheer beauty of the Irish coast. We chatted about our week here and the many moments we had. I thought we'd share some with you.
Moments: The Funniest
On our first day here in Ireland we stopped at a mall where there was a post office. Joe ran in to get some stamps for postcards to send back home. I sat in the rental car and waited for him. At some point I rested my head against the headrest and then something caught my attention and I turned. As I did so I noticed a delightful little tugging as my hair caught in the material of the headrest then tore free. Soon I was sitting with my eyes closed and turning my head slowly from side to side feeling the pull and release, pull and release of the hair on the back of my head. Suddenly I got the feeling someone was watching so I opened my eyes to see an angry looking woman pulling her mobile phone from her purse. She was staring at me. I smiled. She said, 'Are you alright?' I said that I was. Turns out that she had thought that I was a severely disabled man 'stimming' in the car left by some careless 'carer' and she was about to phone emergency services. When Joe got back I told him that he had just barely avoided jail time in a Dublin cell.
Moments: The nicest
I spoke with several parents about how and when to tell their children about the fact of Down Syndrome. One mother talked to me for a long time, mentally taking notes as we chatted. She came back the next day almost glowing. She had to tell me that she had taken my advice and had gone home and had 'the talk' with her son about his disability. She said that she had done it just as I had advised, that it had been an uplifting experience rather than a crushing one. So often I meet and talk with people and have no idea if it matters. It was nice to know it mattered. It was wonderful to know that - if nothing else was achieved - a family was helped.
Moments: The scariest
Sittiing on stage in front of people from around the world being asked to give a 12 minute 'mini-keynote' on sexuality and people with disabilities. From the moment I realized it was only 12 minutes I tried to figure out how to say anything of import in that time. I felt the time ticking down as there were several 'mini-keynotes' before me. I had time to notice the huge audience. A thousand people looks exactly like you think a thousand people would. I had a little notepad in front of me with 4 stories to tell. I kept changing my mind about which to try, trying to guage time. When it came my turn I openned my mouth and was surprised to hear myself say, as I hadn't planned it, 'I have 12 minutes on the topic of sexuality, all the men here are trying to figure out how I'm going to do that, all the women are thinking, 'what's he going to do with the other ten minutes'.
Moments: The warmest
A young woman with Down Syndrome asked to speak to me privately. We went off a bit and she bowed her head, preparing to speak. She looked up at me and put her hand over her heart and said, 'Thank you. I am stronger now.' Her eyes welled up with tears. I remembered her from my workshop, I remembered her struggling to say 'no' with assertion, I remembered her anxiety in being in front of others doing a role play, I remembered her triumphant finish. I said, 'You're welcome. You made me stronger too.' She understood. Who ever said these kids were dumb?
Moments: The saddest
Rolling out of the Congress on the final day. Feeling good about the work done. But feeling sad that the community we'd created, here in Dublin, was slowly dispersing. It was heartening to know that we all individually had the power to make changes to the larger community - yeah, true - but it was nice for it to be 'just us' for a little while.