Saturday, January 19, 2008

What Makes Us Human

Last night I volunteered at the Special Olympics Virginia Winter Games Opening Ceremony. It's my third year working the souvenir stand as a "SOVA" volunteer. Nearly everyone there, with the exception of a few exhausted parents, was walking around with a huge smile. Every year I am impressed with all that these athletes can do. For these Winter Games, the athletes figure skate, speed skate (!), bowl, and do gymnastics -- and pretty much all of them are better at those sports than I am. When they come to the souvenir stand, they communicate well, properly count money and use credit cards, and are just teeming with charisma.

I have a cousin, Patrick, with Down Syndrome. He loves to dance, bowl, and watch the Three Stooges. He was the life of the party at our wedding, staying on the dance floor even when everyone else was taking a breather. Growing up with Patrick as a part of the family showed me not to be afraid of someone who was different. But not everyone has that advantage.

When I hear of someone who is considering terminating a pregnancy only because the fetus has tested positive for Down Syndrome, it makes me very sad. I recently read that over 90% of pregnancies are terminated when a fetus tests positive via amniocentesis for Down Syndrome. If the potential parents had ever known someone with Downs, I think they would be much less likely to make the decision to end the pregnancy. With good education, health care, and support, many kids with Down Syndrome live a normal life, or close to it. And it's worth mentioning that a fetus that tests "normal" may have far worse issues down the road -- there is no way to know. It's never a sure thing.

In the wild, a sick or abnormal animal is typically abandoned by the pack. Nature is hard, and life is cheap. What makes us human is that we have the ability to rise above nature's cruel reality.

Whether we choose to do so is another question.

More information on the Special Olympics Virginia
More information on the Special Olympics international organization


Kelly said...

What a great post!

I volunteered with the Special Olympics in High School and some in college and it was exactly the scene you are describing. The kids were a lot of fun to be around and a lot were really good at their sports.

dcpeg said...

Children with special needs teach us way more than we expect they will! My family learned not to take good health for granted when a nephew was born with several genetic anomylies that required months of hospitalization and too many "procedures" and surgeries to count. He's hearing and sight impaired and truly a gift from God!

Missy said...

awww. That's awesome!

Rebecca said...

I spent my college summers working at a day camp for kids with and without disabilities, and the staff was the same mix. Not only did this teach me about various physical and mental issues it taught be about human beings in general. Using a beeping ball to play with a blind camper made me more sensitive of any accommodations other people may need or just like, including learning how to ask for ones I needed or liked. Carefully listening to a man whose speech was impeded by his cerebral palsy helped me become a more careful listener to all people and encouraged me to ask for people to speak clearly to me. People with recognizable disabilities have the same lessons to share that all human beings can teach and learn, but often we interact with more intention and with clearer "lenses" in our perceptions. What a great post, Megan. I'll be pointing to it from my blog! :)

Londo said...

Nice post! My mom worked in a government care facility for special needs kids and adults for over 20 years. She taught them how to play all kinds of musical instruments, from the kazoo to the guitar. Going to see their yearly Christmas concert is a memory that I will always hold fondly.

meggaplex said...

I'm a random person to you, and you're a random person to me. But I wrote a biography about you. It only had to be three pages. In our class, we're studying individual participation, blogs and social networks. Let me know what you think. You could do a post on it.
I tried emailing you, but I guess you don't use Here's the Google Docs link.

Karen said...

I love that you're giving back some of what your cousin gave you. We have a son with DS and I could totally see him being the last on the dance floor, and loving the Three Stooges. Right now he's into Shrek and Lilo and Stitch.

Liz said...

well put!