Down Syndrome Awareness Month + Respect Life Month = Bending the Arc

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If you have someone you love that has Down Syndrome, you spend the month of October smiling.

Why?

Because people with Down Syndrome are everywhere…all over the media, in my newsfeed on Facebook, written about in blogs or magazine articles. Everywhere people are sharing the joy and the light that is the fingerprint of people with Down Syndrome.

I love this month…and yet I hate it.

Why?

Because it feels like a sales pitch.

Here, consumers, really, try this shiny, new way of living…really, it’s great…nothing down about it…I swear it’s awesome.

And I inwardly cringe.

I shouldn’t have to sell the worthiness of my kid.
Shouldn’t work to convince anyone that his life is worthwhile.

Because, well, you know…every.single.person.on the planet matters.

Every one is sacred and holy.

Right??

And then, we have Respect Life Month…in my church, people are working against abortion. They are talking about the holiness of every human.

I nod.
I smile.
Because for me, that’s my truth.

No one is disposable.

But, people with Down Syndrome apparently are…

…in my town of 60,000 people Patrick is the only one his age (and two or three years on either side of him) in my entire town. There should be 100 people with Down Syndrome in my community. I don’t even think there are 50.

So, yes, we should be Respecting Life…but what does that look like??

For me, it looks like more than just carrying a baby to term.

It means an active welcome once that baby is born.

It means that your parish reaches out and visits you in the hospital, puts your baby on a prayer list, makes meals, babysits your other children, visits and coos and holds the baby…active welcome.

And then, when that baby becomes a toddler or a preschooler it means that you hear the words: “We hope you consider this school for your preschooler or kindergartener. We are saving a place for you.”

Can you imagine??

Maybe you can’t.

But, as someone who cried and cried at the thought of no school wanting and hoping for my child as a student, I can.

As someone who felt downright stealth searching out what Catholic schools were doing in terms of welcoming students with Down Syndrome…I can tell you that it would have felt great to come out of the shadows and say out loud, “Hey, I really want my son to go to school with his siblings and with his parish friends.”

The National Catholic Board on Full Inclusion took our very first call from a pregnant mother.

Of course it was during Respect Life Month….Down Syndrome Awareness Month…of course…because that’s how God works.

Her kindergartener asked if his baby sister would be going to his school.

She had to pause and wonder herself.

Why?

We know the answer.
Our faith tells us the answer.

So does Pope Francis.
Jesus is a yes.
Mary wouldn’t even think twice.

There should be no question.

YES!!!

The answer is yes.
A resounding, B-I-G YES!!
A clapping round of applause…YES!

YOU, baby-to-be, are precious and rare and extremely sacred.

YES, you matter.
YES, you are part of us.
YES!

I take great comfort in the words of Dr. Mary Carlson in her PhD dissertation that is appropriately entitled: Special Education as a Moral Mandate for Catholic Schools:

“It has taken me a long time to realize that children diagnosed with special needs should not have to be dependent upon our charity for their justice. If we are to have Catholic schools, what children are most in need of our special love and care? Shouldn’t it be those who, according to Catholic social teaching, might be considered “the least among us” and “those to which the Kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matt 19:14)? Over the years, as in the epigraph, through the pain of turning these children away, pain which has fallen drop by drop upon my heart, has come the knowledge that if we are to serve any, we must try to serve all.”

So profoundly simple.
So deeply true.

We must try to serve all.

[You may enjoy Mary’s full dissertation here, under the Print tab under Resources/Links:
http://fullinclusionforcatholicschools.org]

Let us find comfort in Dr. Martin Luther King’s words and work to bend the arc of justice…

…all we need to do is TRY.

We don’t need perfection…or anything close…we need an open heart and our faith.

We know that grace surrounds us.

It will carry us through.

Let’s step out in faith.

Together, we can bend the arc.

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