There are moments of pure clarity.
Cradled in her father's arms she was brought over to where she had pointed. She had directed, father willingly followed. Joe and I were on a patio watching the activity around us. It was then we saw father and daughter making their way over to a big black box, but don't be deceived, the box produced bubbles by the thousands. They flew out and up and then every which way. Several had made their way over to us, we both, taking one of life's opportunities to be kids again, tried to catch them. She took catching bubbles quite seriously for a moment, looking surprised when they'd pop in her hand. One of them brushed her cheek and she startled. She was fresh out of babyhood and to her this was simply wonder. And then. Then. She laughed.
Father and daughter stayed for a few minutes more, then he kissed her, helped her grab a bubble or two more, and then headed off. She looked back over his shoulder, at the bubbles, and waved. I don't know where they were going, or rather, I don't know where she was going, this tiny little girl with Down Syndrome, but I knew, with certainty where she wasn't.
I knew that she would not grow up in a crib on an institution ward.
I knew that she would not be sent off to a segregated school to receive lessons in exclusion.
I knew that she would not be hidden away in a basement or an attic or a back room.
I knew that she would not live a life without goals, without successes, without expectations.
Her father's warm embrace, the gentle way he kissed her, the joy he took in helping her catch bubbles told me even more.
I knew that she would grow knowing love, expecting love, secure in love.
I knew that she would have a gentle, guiding teacher.
I knew that she would have a protector and an advocate as she grew.
I knew that while she would have battles to fight, she would fight on firm ground. Ground already won. The school - won. The playground - won. The community - won. She'd fight her battles but far, far, far from the starting line.
And I knew something else and I knew it with fresh clarity.
Those of us who work or have worked in the community living movement made it possible for a little girl's life to begin, differently. Every parent who cried bitterly after a fight with the school board. Every staff who listened carefully and then supported someone with a disability to do something magical. Every single person who volunteered, who gave time, who welcomed in, made it possible.
Sometimes when I'm tired I wonder if it mattered. The work I've done. The work we've done. Then, at moments like these, watching a little girl, safe in her father's arms reach out to play with bubbles, I know. Deeply know. That it matters.
I don't know about you, but I believe we need these moments.
I certainly do.
And I didn't know how desperately I needed it until I saw her tiny little stranger's finger determine the direction that she would go. So tiny, so young, and already confident enough to say, in the only way she could, 'there, I want to go there.'
May she be able to direct her life, for the rest of her life.