Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Stranger: Four Point Five of Five

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.


Patricia said...

Your keen observations are a joy to read. Thank you for this beautiful post. That's a lucky little girl and a wonderful dad you spotted in the crowd!
Did you know that, Downs Syndrome or not, a good father is a girl's most likely predictor of success and happiness? And a harsh or indifferent one is her most likely predictor of difficulties throughout life. That confidence and security that you observed is difficult if not impossible to "develop" after the early developmental stages are past.
Again, I'm so happy for that little one!

ABEhrhardt said...

It depends so strongly on family. A family who treats the child as 'one of us, quirky like all of us,' but still insists on taking care of any problems rather than ignoring them, is priceless.

Unknown said...

These moments of wonder are so easily missed by many....thank you for capturing them and sharing them.
And it is good to know that your work matters...

Nicola said...

This brought tears to my eyes,
To be able to see the big picture changing through the lens of such a small, everyday event is a gift.
Thanks for sharing.

Robin Keehn said...

Yes it has been a great long journey from institutions to lives of diverse-abilies. Tome for the next generation to make thier moves. Thank you Dave… Robin in Chico

Unknown said...

I've spent almost 26 years working with people with developmental delays, mental illness, physical disabilities, etc.I remember all too clearly bringing people out of the hell-hole that was Woodlands (in BC) in the early 90's and into group homes and assisted living situations... and working on educating others to understand that "different" does not equal "wrong" or "bad"... supporting people who had never had any opportunities to find out what they liked (and helping them to learn that they had the right to choose, to say "no", and to live a full and wonderful life). Many days it felt like an uphill battle (some days it still does)...We've come a LONG way; we still have a long way to go but, bit by bit, we're moving in the right direction :)