Our family had two reasons to be excited about our vacation. First, we were flying across the United States to Los Angeles: home to Hollywood, The Beach Boys and Disneyland. Second we would be visiting my Uncle and his family for the first time in many years. Needless to say, we were eagerly anticipating many memorable experiences. Our vacation was wonderful but the best part of the whole trip was a surprise: it was the opportunity of getting to know my cousin, Carl.
Carl greeted us within moments after we arrived. “Hi, cousin Larry. Would you like to see my house?” He then gave us a complete tour. In the living room, he showed us the game table where he played with his dad. We saw the den where he watched movies and stored his wrestling magazines. But the best part of the house was his bedroom where most of his prized treasures were stored.
There were pictures and memorabilia everywhere showing Carl with various celebrities. We heard about a chance meeting with Elvis Presley and saw a photograph of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team signed by each player. There were albums filled with letters and pictures of family and friends. Then, Carl turned to me and asked: “Larry, why haven’t you sent any pictures or letters?”
What could I say? “Carl, I didn’t know how important they were to you. We’ll send some family pictures when we go home. I am really sorry. Will you forgive me?”
Carl flashed the sweetest smile I’ve ever seen and said, “Of course, I forgive you Larry, we’re family.”
Carl has Down Syndrome, a genetic condition caused by the body having too many chromosomes. Symptoms include varying degrees of developmental delays. We don’t know yet what causes Down Syndrome but we do know that nearly one in every thousand babies have it. That’s a lot of folks…
Some would say Carl is impaired. They are so wrong. Carl is different, but different is not impaired. Kay Drais, the mother of a child with Down Syndrome wrote: “Indulge me for a moment and imagine yourself to be a violet growing smack dab in the middle of a beautiful bed of daisies – and all of your (short) life, the multitude of daisies surrounding you seem frustrated that you are different. They try endlessly and to the best of their abilities to turn you into a daisy, despite the fact you aren’t a daisy and never will be. Have you ever picked up a violet and wished that it were a daisy instead? Shouldn’t you be glad of its’ violet ness and that be sufficient? Is it any different with people?”
Carl is a beautiful violet surrounded by a field of daisies. Yet, I could not help but feel that Carl is one of the fortunate ones. A loving family that provides for his every need surrounds him. He is nurtured and encouraged to learn and develop at his own pace, all within a safe and wholesome environment.
One question bothered me: “Where would Carl go if anything happened to his mom and dad?”
Recently, I was asked to write an article for Heart Havens, a ministry of the United Methodist church in Virginia, which is building homes for persons with disabilities who no longer have anyone to care for them. These are residential homes designed to hold four residents plus staff support. Virginia alone has more than 5,000 people on various waiting lists who desperately need this kind of support. In each home, residents will be nurtured and encouraged to develop at their own pace, all within a safe and wholesome environment… just like my “violet” cousin, Carl receives from his parents.
Our church and many others throughout the area will be working together with Heart Havens to build such a home for the “violets” who live within our own community. This project will take a lot of work and cost some money but every time I see Carl’s sweet smile, I know… “It’s the right thing to do.”
The night before we left Los Angeles, Carl and his dad were lying on the floor in the living room watching TV. At one point, Carl scooted closer and gently put his head on dad’s shoulder and whispered, “I love you.” Together arm in arm, father and son created a magic moment that turned out to be the highlight of my vacation and a critical lesson on the real meaning of… “love.”
For more information:
Down Syndrome – http://www.nas.com/downsyn
Heart Havens – http://www.vaumc.org/Mission&Ministry/heaven.htm
Lynchburg Heart Havens – firstname.lastname@example.org This is an email address.