And a little scared.
We, all of us, meet in the parking lot of the school. Our feet crunched on the gravel as we all walked in. For a group of young University students to be so silent was unusual. We go through the doors and our entrance is watched by a young girl with Down Syndrome who was seated on a chair outside a door, waiting. Her eyes looked us over, ours were fearful to return her gaze. We were us, she was them - and we all knew it. The Principal came out to greet us accompanied by our professor. The tour would begin smartly. We trooped behind her and looked, like obedient students, whereever her finger pointed. She seemed determined that what we would see would be classrooms and playgrounds and rooms for music and rooms for art and one big gymnasium thrown in for good measure. This was a SCHOOL.
And we did see a school. But we also saw kids, lots of kids, all sorts of kids. Those with Down Syndrome were the easiest to identify - we'd seen a pictures in our textbooks. They, these kids, looked at us with suspicion. It was like they knew, somehow deeply knew, that out there were scientists in white coats who were searching for what was then being called a 'cure' but really was simply 'elimination.' I didn't know, or even suspect, that the hunting had begun.
A few years later.
I am in Montreal.
I am laughing.
Somehow, and I don't remember how I ended up sitting at a table with a group of twenty year olds, all with Down Syndrome. They were laughing, I was laughing. It's a pleasant memory. All I remember was that it was lunch time, I had been brought there for some reason. We all chatted and I remember thinking about how full of life these young people were. Full of hopes and dreams. Full of plans and possibilities. Then, I was in a car being driven away. The woman who had taken me there, a woman who would only months later adopt a child with Down Syndrome, said to me after I told her what fun I'd had with the group, "Remember that, it may never happen again." Her tone was serious and I looked at her and said I didn't know what she meant. She said, "Surely you've noticed that they are disappearing. Surely you've noticed that where were once people with Down Syndrome there are now only empty chairs." I hadn't noticed. I really hadn't noticed. I closed my eyes and thought of my last visit to a sheltered industry. They weren't there.
Many years later.
I am in Dublin.
I am in shock.
It's the Down Syndrome World Congress on the campus of the University of Dublin. I am standing surrounded by people with Down Syndrome and their families. Over the next several days I would do workshops for families, workshops for people with disabilities and I would sit at a book table and chat with many people from many places. It seemed like a celebration. But it also seemed like a coming together, a gathering of reassurance. It was like we were all getting a group hug without being touched - we were with the survivors. We were with those who's job had become much more serious. Much, much more serious.
A few years ago.
I am in Northern B.C.
I am listening in earnest.
I don't remember his name. I am so bad with names. I had a picture of him and I, together, once, but can't find it either. Joe and I are not good with pictures. He is speaking to me about having Down Syndrome. His awareness of the moral issues raised by eugenics was astonishing. He wanted to make sure that everyone he met learned, from him, that having Down Syndrome is just a way of being. He wanted to be a beacon of hope that any expectant parent could see, shining through the darkness of fear and the purposeful ignorance of the medical community. He wanted to live his life seen, he wanted to be out and proud as a person with Down Syndrome. He understood that there was a battle going on for the existence of those like him.. He got it.
So do I.
So do many.
That little girl in school eyeing us with wariness. I think of her often. I see her sitting there, waiting. She looked so alone. Entirely alone.
I wonder who came for her.
Because in that day, in that time, she could, truly have been, entirely alone.
Now, in a different time, in another age, little girls and little boys with Down Syndrome have parents, and homes, and communities.
But the scientists are ever closer.
I wonder how far away.
There just may be a little girl sitting outside a door underneath a sign reading, "and then there was one."