A few days ago I had the opportunity to hold a brand, new, baby. A little girl. She was only days old. I had been making my way through a mall near me when I heard my name called out. I turned to see a woman waving, someone I did not recognize, and I turned to roll back to her. It turns out that she'd heard me lecture a few times and had been assigned to read two of my books as part of her college studies. She wanted to say "Hi." She was sitting, as she talked with me, with a baby carriage that she was slowly and gently pushing forward and then pulling back.
After we exchanged a few pleasantries she asked if I'd do her the honour of letting her take a picture of m with her baby. She explained quickly, seeming to want to make the request understandable, that her little girl had Down Syndrome and she wanted, one day, to have this picture to show her child. I was immediately, and profoundly, moved by the request. I eagerly agreed. I like kids. I like all the possibilities that they represent.
Mom roused the infant from sleep and placed her in my arms. She opened her eyes, looked at me, and fell immediately back to sleep. Twice honoured. She felt safe in my arms. I felt wonderful holding her. The picture was snapped. I asked if I could hold the baby for just a wee while longer. When we were done chatting, I passed the little girl over and we said our goodbyes.
I left thinking about another time and another baby. Then, again, an infant girl with Down Syndrome. The difference was, then, that the child had been abandoned at birth and was adopted by a woman who worked at a service agency that I consulted to. She was thrilled and proud of her little girl and when I came to visit, I'd get to hold the baby.
I remember the first time I held that baby all those years ago. Institutions were still doing brisk business, segregated schools still were the primary option and work shops rather than work places were where all paths led. I held her and tried to think of a future full of colour and of choice, of self determination and of voice, of the possibilities of love and the possibilities of adulthood. I tried to think of this for her. I tried, in my heart to imagine her into a future that she would create, rather than a future that others would make for her. I tried and it was hard. Really hard. I remember the weight of that baby in my arms and the weight on my shoulders as I recommitted myself to work for change.
This time, I held the baby, it was different somehow. The institutions are closed, segregated schools are gone, people with disabilities are finding their way into meaningful lives. I have been to high school graduations. I have been to weddings. I have been served, in shops, by people with disabilities. It's different. But. It's not different. I didn't know about the abuse of people with disabilities back then. I didn't know about the rate of bullying and teasing back then. I knew these things happened but I didn't know how big the problem is. I held this baby, this little girl, who felt safe in my arms. Who slept in my arms. Who trusted herself to me. I held her and again felt a need to recommit myself to work for change.
All of us in the disability community, those with disabilities themselves, those who parent those with disabilities, those who work to support those with disabilities, those who are family and friends of those with disabilities, those who work for and advocate for justice and rights and freedom for people with disabilities, we all need moments where we recommit ourselves to the fight for change. We need to have moments when we look, again, at why we do what we do. We need to realize it matters.
Because there is a baby girl, with Down Syndrome, sleeping comfortably in the trust that her future will be bright.
And by God, we can't break that trust.