The Pioneer

The weight of her hand on my shoulder was different.  I am often approached by older women who whisper “I have a son too” when I am out with my 11-year old son Davis, who has Down syndrome.  I am so grateful for these women, now in their seventies and eighties, who were pioneers – embracing their calling as mothers of children with special needs before society caught up and accepted that their children had a right to be part of the community.

But this petite woman put her hand on my shoulder with unique gravity, almost a grip.  It signaled she had something important to say, not a casual exchange.  “I never knew what a blessing it was until now,” she said.  “He is the only one who cares about how we’re doing,” she whispered, as she tipped her head toward her husband at her side, also well into his eighties.  “I appreciated it before, but I didn’t realize it until now.”  This was a woman who realized that now, as their lives were winding down, the person who would stand by their side with the most care and concern was their 57-year-old son with Down syndrome.  That was all she said, before she returned to her seat.

It wasn’t that she was telling me that Davis would grow to be even more of a blessing to me than he is now.  As I listened to her soft voice, and felt her firm grip on my shoulder, she was making things right.  She was confessing that she didn’t fully appreciate the gift she had been given, but with her acknowledgement of it now, she was setting the record straight.  In that moment, I served as her priest, and in articulating the sin she felt she committed in rejecting the fullness of the gift that is her son, she found redemption.

I understand that.  With regret, I too received the gift with despair.  I share the shame of looking into my son’s eyes now and not being able to tell him that he was received with joy.  And like her, I try to make things right by connecting with mothers newer to the journey than I, and saying with conviction the gift is real, and it is unfolding.  Although I appreciate the blessing that Davis is now, thanks to this woman’s guiding hand on my shoulder, I am open to the idea that there is fuller blessing up ahead.  Another reminder that I’ve not yet arrived, I’m on a journey.