I don’t know your name.
Don’t be afraid. There is really no need.
I saw you turn your head. That’s not unusual, many do. Sometimes they smile. Or laugh. Some wave or say hello. It’s hard to put into words how uplifting it is when someone makes the effort to engage. Because they want to.
And it makes my day.
Then, there are the moments that cause me to catch my breath. Few and far between, thankfully, but they still pack a punch and leave a scar.
You got me.
No smile. No wave. That’s fine, really.
But you did not look away. You stared. As you overtook us, you looked back and you stared even more.
And in that stare all I saw was fear and, dare I say, contempt for what you did not understand.
I don’t blame you. It wasn’t your fault; how could it be?
You were on your way to school with your friends. No more than 8 or 9 years old. A credit to your school image. You wore a smart coat. Your shirt was tucked in and your shoes were clean. You did not push past me; you were not disrespectful in any way. You probably work hard at school and are a pleasure to teach. If my daughter were old enough to hang around with you, I think I would be pleased.
That’s the problem.
Appearances can be deceptive.
What did you see when you stared back at my child? I think I know.
You saw something that made you afraid. You saw something that the world doesn’t want you to see. You saw someone society rejects. 91% of the time*. You saw Down Syndrome.
In that moment you rejected her too.
How did you come to see something you did not like? Who told you that’s what you would see? Who taught you, a child, to be afraid of my child?
You weren’t born with those fears or prejudices; of that I am certain.
Yet you have already been shaped to shun what you do not understand. What you see as different.
It’s not your fault. It can’t be.
Looking is good. Connections can be made by a look. Staring is also ok with me. Sometimes I do the same. But in your stare was a rejection of one of my most precious possessions.
And it stung.
She did not ask for your approval so why did you give her your rejection? Who told you to do that?
Go ahead and stare. Stare all you like, but please don’t leave it there. Say hello or just smile. We collect smiles. They are taken hold of, embraced, then locked away in our memory bank. Cherished. Like collecting conkers or picking blackberries we go out hoping to find more each day. We think about them, talk about them, get them out and relive them. There are so many.
The man in the Post Office who paused to pull funny faces at her, making her laugh. Or the woman who walks her dog every day and stops to say hello. Not to me, but to her.
We don’t know her name either.
These are the moments that carry us forward into a brighter day. These are moments that are filled with so much more than just a smile.
The dog is called Oscar. We are good friends.
Or, if you prefer, don’t even give us a second thought. Allow us to walk along the pavement just like you. Pass us by like you would most other strangers. Without a backward glance. We won’t be offended or feel rejected; acceptance comes in many forms.
And, in return, I will try not to judge you too.
* According to national statistics 91% of babies diagnosed prenatally with Down’s Syndrome are aborted in the UK.