The buckle on the baby stroller clicked into place, and from the corner of my eye I noticed a very large man moving fast towards me and the kids. I panicked.
Alone in the Oakland, California airport with two small children, I was just trying to get there from here. Why was he running towards me? I stood up and faced him. He slowed and stopped at the carriage. He looked at my small son. He looked at me.
And this big man quietly told me a little story.
He lived in Oakland, but on the wrong side. He had been involved in gangs, drugs and enough crime to satisfy both. Back then, he didn’t want to change. He had nothing else. He couldn’t see anything else, and plus he had status, so he was ok with his life.
But, he also had a little brother with Down syndrome who never let him alone. His brother asked all the time where he was going, what he was doing, when he was coming home. He wanted to come along. But the man knew better than that.
The younger boy learned, probably from their mom or sister, what drugs were. The boy knew they were no good, that they made people act crazy and fight with one another. Maybe it was the fiftieth time or the hundredth time, but one day his brother wrapped his arms around his big neck, stared him in the eye and pleaded with him to stop going out and doing drugs and bad things. He begged him not to go.
And that day something happened.
His brother’s eyes saw deep into his own heart. There was no barrier, no layer, no front, no veil between his heart and his brother’s heart. The brothers were one and they were communicating. The man heard the words, but more than that, he felt them. He felt the love. He felt the understanding. He felt the compassion and acceptance. He felt seen. No one had ever given him all those things at the very same moment. Not his mother, certainly not his father. Not his gang brothers, not even his girlfriend.
Despite the unknown. Despite the fear. Despite everything he knew, he made the choice right then and there to honor what he felt, to honor what his brother had shown him and given to him in that moment.
It took time and it was hard, but he never looked back.
So, that day he saw me at the airport. He saw my son and couldn’t stop himself from running over to me to tell me how lucky I was to have a baby with Down syndrome. He told me how this boy would change my life too, and how he would not be the man he was today—he would probably not be alive—without his Down syndrome brother.
I think there was mention of angels and lucky charms, but at the time I’m not sure I truly understood what he was saying.
It is twelve years later. I’m beginning to understand. Something special has happened to me. It is masked by what seems like a problem, even a tragedy, to some.
Now I am looking closer, looking underneath, behind, and through so that I can tell the rest of you about what it’s really like to have a Down syndrome person in your life. My intention is to take this beyond acceptance and inclusion.
I am asking everyone to consider that Down syndrome people may have something fundamental to teach us about the art of being human.
Because here’s the thing. What happened to the man in Oakland is happening all over the world. Down syndrome people are everywhere. They are changing hearts and minds everywhere.
And aren’t they just exactly what we need right now?