"That's an insult, I tell you, an insult."
She was nearly fifty, plump and in need of telling me this story. This happens to me a fair bit. Some hear me tell stories in my lectures and a need grows to tell a story themselves. I was sitting by the book table and I was tired. But she was pleasant, and too, I like stories when they are told for both the listener and the teller. When there is as much a need to tell as hear.
"I was driving her to the hospital. She had been sick a fair bit and I was just talking to keep her mind off seeing the doctor. She never complained but you knew she didn't like the ordeal. She didn't like seeing the doctor and she didn't like sitting in a crowded waiting room and having eyes look at her and discover her Down Syndrome. It made her feel centered out. Picked on. Even though no one ever said a word."
She paused as someone came and asked me to sign a book, I saw her patiently wait and then I realized that the story was for me and me alone. An intimacy grew between us.
"So I went on and on about things. I asked her what she wanted to do afterwards. She said, quietly, that she'd like to go for an ice cream. I agreed but I told her that I'd just have a coffee. She looked at me and asked me why I wasn't having ice cream. I told her that I was too fat, that I had been trying to lose weight all my life and that I just didn't want to be fat anymore."
I nodded, I had been there too ... not for many, many years. But I had been there. I knew the suffering of wanting to be something else, something different than was made. So, I nodded. Not in agreement, but in understanding.
"She asked me if I'd always been big. I said that I had. She asked me if I ever prayed to be small. The question surprised me. But I decided to be honest. I told her that I had often prayed to be thinner. That God would quickly fix me." Tears were forming in her eyes and her hands were now wringing. Fat people don't admit this easily. It was hard for her.
"She told me that her mom had said that it was an insult to God to ask to be different than you were. It was ok to ask to be better, to be nicer, to be kinder ... but it was never ok to ask to be different."
Another person came to ask a quick question as break was ending. I asked if we could talk the next break and she said 'sure' and left us alone to finish.
"What did you say to her?" I asked.
"I asked her if she ever prayed to be normal, to not have Down Syndrome. She told me that she did when she was a kid but not now. When she told her mom, her mom got mad. 'Mom told me that I was perfect. That God made me the way I was. That I should thank God for making me not insult God by not being grateful. That's what I think you should do. I think you should thank God.' By then we were at the hospital and we waited to see the doctor. Waited to have a couple tests run. Waited in line just to wait in line."
"When we got out," she continued, "we went for ice cream and I didn't say anything, I just got us each a bowl. And she gave me a big, big grin and said, 'That makes God happy too.'
We laughed and agreed that not a doctor nor nutritionist in the world would agree with her. But that she had a point. When the day was over I asked her if I could write the story. She hesitated and said that I could.
"If you'd rather I didn't, I won't." I said.
"No, it's just that the memory is so precious to me. I don't tell many others. But I think it might be precious to someone else too, so go ahead."
I said I would.
Because it meant a lot to me too.