This morning while driving to work, I noticed three people disembarking from a bus. They all had rain gear on – boots and jackets and hats. Suddenly one of them began to dance. The others joined in, so I pulled over to watch for a moment. As I looked closer I realized that they weren’t dancing at all – they were stomping through puddles with huge grins on their faces.
I also noticed that they were adults with Down syndrome, and my heart soared.
When I was a young woman, I worked for a couple of years coordinating the local Special Olympics. Among my responsibilities was overseeing the track and field events. Many of the young athletes with Down syndrome competed as runners, and I got to know several of them well. I appreciated their generally frank and friendly ways of being in the world, and what I saw as a complete lack of concern for the nuances and dynamics of race, class and gender.
I was also aware of the struggles they and their families faced trying to live with dignity in a society with little tolerance for difference – and a fear and disregard for people with disabilities. Life could be rough on those young people, and yet most of them met the world with a lot of grace and goodwill.
A few years ago, I noticed that I was encountering fewer and fewer children with Down syndrome. I learned that early pregnancy tests can determine if a child has the genetic marker for Down syndrome. It must be tremendously difficult for a family to grapple with whether or not to abort under these circumstances. (This is not esoteric for me. Many years ago I chose to abort, and intimately understand what it takes to make such a decision, so I can well imagine struggling to make that particular choice myself). And while I unequivocally support reproductive freedom and choice, I also grapple with the question of whether people I’d learned to deeply value and cherish are being lost to the world.
So I was doubly grateful to witness those folks dancing through puddles. They moved with graceful gracelessness and exuberant joy, one leading while the others followed. Another gift brought by the rain.
I’ve just returned from a difficult trip to Australia where Aboriginal peoples were systematically and legally eradicated from their lands, separated from their families, and could be hunted down and murdered with impunity until the early 1970s. This legacy has deep and continuing implications to this day. We are struggling with very similar questions here in the US as well. Questions of who is considered human, valid and worthwhile are global questions, and if we are to evolve, we must do a much better job at sitting in the murky and uncomfortable waters of grappling with them.
All of our actions, individual and collective, large and small, have an impact on the world and are interconnected. No single action or choice stands alone. The decisions of our ancestors, those who are no longer with us, have impact. The choices we make today will reverberate through the years, and will matter to those who come after us. Our job as leaders is to insist upon staying awake even when the world at large would rather we sleep.
So thank you for staying awake. I know that the world is in good hands because people like you get up every morning willing to take on our most pressing and soul-breaking problems. Even when I almost lose my heart, I rest in the knowledge that you are out there working and leading us toward transformation. Thank you for another year of strong and committed leadership. Thank you for being a part of our Rockwood community.
As we move into our winter season here in the northern hemisphere, the days are short and our nights are growing longer. In this time of darkening I wish you simple joy. May you rest and play. May you connect with the natural world, and laugh a bunch. May you eat well and lend support to someone who needs a hand. May you, and everything you love, be well.
From my heart to yours.
Image credit: Ripples by danisabella