I tried to stop myself but couldn't.
I knew that I shouldn't feel anything - but I did.
Toronto is Canada's largest city. Yonge Street has some of Canada's busiest intersections, there are cars, people, wheelchairs and strollers everywhere. We had picked up a tea and were heading over to sit and drink it in George Hislop parkette. I had to pause before rolling over the cut curb to head to the east side of the street to let a woman pass. I glanced at her only so that I could see when I could safely move. And I noticed.
She was maybe twenty years old. She walked with a hurried pace. A smile indicated that something fun had just happened or was about to. She had a blue backpack slung over a turquoise tee. Her jeans were tight with intention not weight. She stepped past me, not seeing me, only seeing her destination. She was alone.
She had Down Syndrome.
It shouldn't matter to me. But it did. As I drove across the street I found my eyes filling with tears. My life flashed before my eyes, it's not death that brings rapid memory - it's life. I flashed to an elementary school with no children with disabilities. I flashed to a high school with no teens with disabilities. I flashed through my teens to my twenties to my thirties. People with disabilities existed only in a professional capacity. They did not exist in public. They did not exist without wearing the uniform of helpless captive - a staff or parent beside them. The certainly did not exist, alone, on city streets, wearing turquoise tees and sexy jeans.
Instantly I wanted every doctor who would tell an expecting parent that people with Down Syndrome have no hope, no future, to see her. Instantly I wanted every educational expert that thinks that people with difficultly learning, don't, to see her. Instantly I wanted every parent that worries that their child may never live freely, to see her. Instantly I wanted history to shout 'WE WERE WRONG!!!!!' from the rooftops.
Her jeans that dad would disapprove of.
They mean something.
They mean that Hitler was wrong. They mean that genes may form us but not define us. They mean that a medical degree does not a shaman make. They mean that the crystal ball that geneticists use to see the future needs to be grabbed from their hands and smashed to the floor. They mean that we all need to redefine possibilities to mean ... possibilities.
They means that all those years of parental love and support, all those tears cried by mothers who struggled to teach, all those hours that father's spent encouraging, well it means they mattered.
A few hours later I asked Joe if he had seen her. He had not. He quickly apologized saying he was talking with Tessa who was along for the trip. But I didn't want him to have seen her, notice her. It makes sense that she just blend in with all the rest. Because I don't want her to be 'other' I want her to be simply 'another'.
And she will, one day, to me. The day when it is no longer remarkable to see people living their potential. To see people with Down Syndrome simply being who they were always capable of being. To see freedom as the end result of climbing a steeper slope.
But for now, to me, I need to see her.
And I'm glad I did.
Even though, I shouldn't have.
big smile from me Dave!
Love it - posting it on Facebook for all those parents with kids with down syndrome --
Fabulous Dave! Loved meeting you in Dublin last year, love following your blog. Your observations are inspired. Thank you!
Awesome post Dave!
That is so terrific! Not just that she was independent but that it was no big deal.
I had an experience not quite as great as that, but similar, when I was on vacation with my girlfriend. One day we were traveling and I happened to see four different families with kids of varying ages with Down Syndrome. In the evening I commented on it to my girlfriend, because it seemed like a coincidence and because we have a cute bambino in our extended family who has DS. She said she hadn't seen any of these kids. At first I was thinking, jeez, she really isn't very observant. Then I realized that was actually quite awesome, because there was nothing standing out about these kids. They were just regular kids going on trips with their families. And it's quite nice that there's nothing notable about that, when that wasn't always the case.
I always value reading the posts in which you reflect upon how different life is for people with disabilities today compared to 30+ years ago. I'm not that young, but I'm sufficiently younger than you that I have no memories of when people with disabilities were hidden away in institutions. Mind you, the very IDEA that people with disabilities should be integrated into the community, even into schools, was still new when I was growing up. But I didn't know that then. It just seemed natural to me that a deaf child like me would go to a public school (I do often regret not having more time among deaf peers and having full communication access there, I DON'T support completely shutting down all deaf schools because we do NEED them ... but deaf students should always have the OPTION of being integrated, and because I grew up integrated myself it does seem natural even if there is a mix of pros and cons to it ... and because of that, I didn't really understand as a little girl just how dramatically new the concept was for some of the teachers and others who met me then)
It helps me understand the history of my disability community a little better when people like you, whose memories extend a little longer than mine, are able to share these kinds of perspectives. More children and teens and young adults with disabilities should be learning from these kinds of perspectives.
All young people, disabled or not, should be learning about disability history.
Thank you so very much for sharing this. I am glad she was "seen" and "not seen". This make my heart soar.
Great post Dave. For me it was an exclamation point on an already great Fathers day. Thank you.
Seeing is good.
Seeing (unseeing) through false expectations is the trouble. Seeing in the context of false expectations is just realism. And can give way to just seeing very readily.
As for the sexy jeans Dad would disapprove of: isn't that a great part of what freedom is? Liberty to do what others disapprove or would 'protect' us from.
This is a wonderful post and not just because you talk about my home town, Toronto! I would like to post a link to it on our Italian mailing list in Yahoo with a translation into Italian. I hope this is ok with you. Please let me know.
Eunice Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org
Simply inspiring! I have a 1 year old daughter with DS and she is a true gift from God! Thank you for sharing this with all of us! I am saving it, printing it out and sending it to others. Cheers,
Love this post. I have a nearly 3-year-old daughter with DS. It makes me smile to recognize people out in the world with DS that are just living their lives, part of the scene. Sometimes I feel bad for noticing them, other times I am happy to notice that there's nothing noticeable about them. They just caught my eye & made me smile. :)
Thanks for the blog Dave, you made my day!
I hope I am not misusing your blog - if so please delete this comment. I know how passionate you are about the word r@tard so I thought I would take a chance.
I want to send out an "R word alert". In today's Toronto Star there is an article on page L1 entitled "Bourdain takes on Ronald McDonald" in which the writer discusses how he is trying to divert his 2 and a half year old daughter from eating at McDonald's. He objects to the food and to the way they advertise to capture young children. So, Dave, his ultimate weapon in this battle is to lead his daughter and her little friends to believe that if they eat McDonalds food they could become a r@tard. I am horrified and appalled. I am sending a letter to the editor. I thought you and or some of your readers might be interested.
This is actually my first time to read your blog and how deeply I am touched by it.
My daughter is now 10 years old and my only wish is that she will be able to explore all her potentials and the possibilities we can provide her with. There is no limit at what she can do as long as we (the community-at-large)let her.
And it is people such as yourself that make all these possibilities even more possible.
Kudos to you and consider yourself hugged <:).
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