I met 19-year-old Lucy* about a month ago. Sunday she was standing next to her mother, holding on securely to her arm when I looked her in the eye, said hello, and told her how pretty she looked. She glanced off to the side and moaned something undecipherable, as her mother patted her hand and said, “Okay, Lucy.” The mother turned to me as if trying to explain, “Whatever she says, I just say ‘okay’!” Some might argue that Lucy’s not really saying anything, that she doesn’t understand me, and that there’s no point in trying to communicate with her. Perhaps they’re right.
But what if they’re not?
Lucy, you see, has Down’s Syndrome. I only know a few things about this birth defect. I know that some people with Down’s are highly communicative, some are aggressive, and others are very affectionate. I know that many are both. I know that Lucy is neither. And I know that had my niece been required to endure this life here on earth, she would be over 4 years old now and living, however so, with this same defect.
Soon after my sister delivered our darling Clara Grace, stillborn in 2006, I was unable to look at anyone with Down’s Syndrome without growing immediately emotional and introspective. I observed them in airports, grocery stores, and schools and asked myself all kinds of questions as I watched. Would Clara have done that? Would Clara have looked like that? Would she be that beautiful? That vocal? As demonstrative? Would she love me? And more importantly, would she know that I love her?
We didn’t get to find out, which is why I look Lucy in the eye. Whether she understands me or not, sometimes I feel like she is my chance.
My chance to hug.
My chance to love.
My chance to learn.
I say her name deliberately. Several hours after the funeral for my niece I watched my sister and brother-in-law open cards of condolences, and my sister commented on something I will never forget. “My favorites are the ones where people say her name,” she said, further explaining how valid and real it made her feel to have others acknowledge it.
I’ve only known Lucy for a month, and I don’t know if she understands me.
But what if she does?
I want her to know that I see her.
And that she’s beautiful.