Waiting rooms can often be eerily silent places as people are buried in their smartphones and magazines, or as they simply stare straight ahead, avoiding eye contact with another stranger. I was pleased that you responded well to my initiative to strike up a friendly conversation. We chatted back and forth about our children and made some general small talk as we each waited for our child's name to be called,....
...but then a few simple phrases seemed to change everything...
I mentioned that our family was looking forward to celebrating my oldest child's seventh birthday that weekend. You smiled and said, "Seven? Oh, I bet he loves to help with the baby!"
Now at this point, I had a choice to make. I could smile and move on, or I could be real about the different dynamics our family experiences in this area. I love to talk about my kids, and I love opportunities to help create awareness about Down syndrome, so I decided to be real...
Smiling back at you I started to share, "Well, actually, my son has special needs..."
Before I could go further you quickly interjected, "Oh! I'm sorry!"
I'm always a bit taken aback when people apologize to me concerning my child, but I continued on.
"It's fine. He has Down syndrome, and..."
Once again you cut me off with another sympathetic, "I'm sorry!"
This time I was a little more direct...
"It's nothing to be sorry about. We love him crazy, and he has taught us so much! He's just not at a place yet to be able to help with the baby."
In response you smiled uncomfortably and busied yourself with your daughter. A moment later you picked up a pamphlet from the side table and started to flip through the pages. It was becoming increasingly clear that our friendly conversation had come to an end.
Let me first say...I am not angry with you. I believe you had no ill-intentions, and you were not trying to offend in any way. I am not angry with you, but I am saddened by your response. As I told you, the fact that my son has Down syndrome is nothing to be sorry about. If only you would have allowed me to continue I could have told you why...
I could have told you that my little boy's life is such a precious gift, especially considering that the doctors and nurses in the NICU didn't expect him to survive. I cannot imagine my life without him today.
I could have told you what a little over-comer he is after facing numerous health complications, including open heart surgery, and the fact that he is healthy and thriving today.
I could have told you what a champion he is--working so hard to reach various developmental milestones, and I could have shared with you the incredible celebration that has accompanied each one. I am so proud of him!
I could have told you about his contagious smile, his delightful laughter, and his wholehearted affection. My son carries such joy.
I could have told you about his unique personality, and some of his favorite things that include Elmo, "The Wheels on the Bus," and stuffed animal monkeys.
And yes, I could have told you about the challenges we have faced, but I also could have told you that each one has carried with it an opportunity to learn, grow, and discover the heart of God in brand new ways.
I could have told you that our journey may look different than some (then again, who's life journey ever looks the same), and that it carries its own unique beauty. I would not be the person I am today if I had not had the privilege of walking this road.
I could have told you so much...
...and hopefully your discomfort would have dissolved, and you would have been able to see that my son is not something to apologize for...he is someone of immense value--a good gift I will always treasure!
So, today, as I remember our short encounter, I bless you, and I pray that you will have opportunities in the future to truly see and know the person behind the disability. I promise you that your life will be enriched!