I pulled the same prank every week. I knew it and Darla knew it, but that didn’t stop us from repeating it. There was one reason I continued to covertly “steal” Darla’s bowling ball: Her response. When the prank was up, her laugh enlivened the dark bowling alley. But if the alarming trend continues, far fewer of us will know people like her. Darla lives with Down syndrome, a medical condition our society is attempting to erase.
Saturday mornings during college, I volunteered with the Special Olympics bowling league and track club. And it was Darla’s charm that acted like an unsnoozable alarm clock whenever I considered shirking my volunteer commitment. Her big hugs and contagious smiles greeted everyone she met, and they were the highlight of my week.
When I finished college and moved away from Indiana, Darla’s embrace faded from my memory. But her smile resurfaced and branded itself on my heart when I read Cade’s story and learned that 92 out of 100 babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. I grew up in a special needs family and grieve that 92% of these families will not experience this unexpected and overwhelming joy.
Last week, my family visited the Denver Aquarium. While there, I saw a young boy with Downs who clamored for a good view of a tropical fish tank. Nobody in the aquarium matched his delight. He saw the world with unfiltered enthusiasm, his imagination captured by the brightly colored fish darting and twisting through the water. The little boy at the aquarium doesn’t know me, but he captivated my imagination with his whimsy.
We characterize people with Down syndrome by their challenges—much like we portray people in poverty by their problems. I’m so glad I’m not identified by what ails me. Chris? He’s the guy that is overly concerned by what other people think of him. Or, Chris? Oh, he’s a “considers-his-own-needs-above-all-others” type of guy. Thankfully, I’m just Chris.
We purge the richness of God’s marvelous creativity by telling thousands of babies that they do not deserve a stake in our society because of their uniqueness. Darla, Cade, the boy at the aquarium, and their many courageous friends are not problems in need of a solution. Darla is a woman who spreads optimism in spite of adversity. The boy at the aquarium reminds us to marvel at the beauty in our world. People worth celebrating and worth protecting.