‘Children with special needs,” Gov. Sarah Palin said during her acceptance speech at the Republican convention, “inspire a special love.” As someone who grew up alongside a brother with Down Syndrome, I can attest to that observation.
But these special children, and the special adults they grow up to be, inspire something else of equal importance. When these little, unexpected ambassadors of God enter our lives, they offer us the opportunity to rise to that greatest of all challenges — to treat others as we would want to be treated. Their presence, in short, elevates all of us.
So, from the perspective of a brother of one of these children, allow me to offer Track, Bristol, Willow, and Piper some unsolicited advice: You are most likely still trying to understand how your lives have changed now that you have a brother who will, in one way or another, always depend on you. He will require loads of attention, an unlimited supply of patience, and love — the sort of love, it is worth noting, that one usually never bestows on a sibling! It is the sort of relationship that, in time, will more closely resemble the bond between a parent and child than between two siblings.
Chances are, you don’t know other families with a Down’s child at home. Your friends and neighbors most likely won’t be able to offer first-hand advice on handling the challenges ahead. Trig may provoke stares from those you pass on the street, or the occasional hurtful comment from someone who just doesn’t understand. Caring for him may drain you of the energy you would prefer to devote to other pursuits.
In short, Trig sets you apart as well. Much will be required from you in the years ahead. But, if my experience is any guide, you will be immeasurably better off with Trig in your lives. And, unbeknownst to you, others will watch how you treat Trig and will quietly benefit from the good examples you undoubtedly will set.
Allow me to explain.
It wasn’t until my brother John lost his battle with cancer ten years ago that I truly appreciated how much he influenced those around him. A dear friend from my elementary and high-school days expressed it most eloquently. “You and your parents” he wrote in one of the many moving letters I received after his passing, “were just doing what came naturally, I guess, all those loving years with John, so you might not have realized the collateral effect.”
What was that collateral effect?
“The people who knew the Francs counted themselves very lucky, indeed, that you made John part of our lives [emphasis added]. Particularly in high school, to have John around Loyola High School or basketball games and other events took some of the high-spirited aggression of teenage boys and turned it around. Given what we now know about teenagers (as parents), that was at least a small miracle. So thanks to him, and to you, for opening up a better side in many of your cohorts.”