Thursday, December 20, 2012

My favorite uncle

We call them disabled.
Or handicapped.
Downs syndrome.
Intellectually  handicapped.
Maybe you have found yourself in situations that have made you uncomfortable or anxious  around a person who is different than you are.
I know I have.

But today I want to talk about someone who has had a tremendous impact on my life.
He has taught me so much.
He processes differently than I do.. but I'm glad.
He's my uncle.

His name is Dale and he was born with Down's Syndrome.
My Grandma was in her 40's when she gave birth to him.
Whatever we may say about the past being so much better than today. In light of how the world handled anyone who had any disability or mind disorder I would say...
 "We've come a long way baby!
In the 50's and 60's a Down's baby was still thought to be a burden  to society. Because of heart conditions and lack of care babies were often given a life expectancy of about 20 years.

When Dale was a boy his father died, leaving my grandma to raise him all by herself. This caused a lot of anger in Dale. My dad was often his disciplinarian. Dale was  16 when I was born. And he usually just scared me. I thought of him as an adult but he really was just a child in his mind. I had trouble understanding his outbursts and when I would stay with my grandma overnight he would get jealous and yell for me to "go home".  A bit Unnerving to hear in bed at 11pm, especially at the tender age of 4.
As I got older I learned to appreciate him more. I never remember feeling embarrassed by him. Even when people would stare. I just usually wanted to tell them to mind their own business or something like that.  We were all very grateful that he was hard to understand for those who don't talk with him very often, because he loved to "share" in sharing time at church. His ramblings would often include our names and we would cringe hoping he hadn't overheard something that should not be said in a microphone.

When my Grandma died 15 years ago Dale went to live with my parents. Who have faithfully cared for him ever since. He has become such a dear part of our family I don't even like to think about the tremendous loss it will be when we have to say goodbye.

I have learned so much from my uncle.  He is one of the friendliest, non judgmental,open-hearted, hysterically funny, and generally good natured persons I know.
One of Jalen's teachers recently told me that when she walks into a school basketball game she can always count on Dale to wave and make her feel so important." He's so happy to see me". She said. So I started doing the same thing to her when she comes around. Who doesn't want a greeting like that?! The last time she came in Dale told her to "Sit here". And pointed to the spot beside him. I love that.
This fall I was in a Diner with him. It was one of those mom and pop places where the tables are close and everybody knows your name..... Some new faces walked in and my Uncle was the first to jump up and go greet them at their table. Which clearly made them a little uncomfortable but I was touched. He didn't care, he just stuck out his hand and introduced himself, me and my mom all in 3 seconds. He then told them that his mom had died and Betty(my mom) was his sister.
Another moving moment for me happened this past month. He had come to Micah's basketball game. At the end we had him pose with Micah. Since we had won the game  We told him to hold up one finger for #1 but instead he said "No 2 fingers...Peace!" Which was just so sweet and lacking in the competitive spirit we with the average amount of chromosome's  get caught in.

I love his sense of humor and trickery. His hugs and sweet words of love for many are inspirational.
Opening gifts takes him a long time because he enjoys the moment, the spotlight, the suspense. HE always reminds us of his birthday coming up. Even on our own day's he makes sure we know he has one too. :) So on his birthday one year we sang for him over and over all day long. He would be back in his room doing his favorite thing... Cutting out pictures. And as soon as heard us sing the song he would appear with a great big smile and thumbs in the air. Sometimes taking a bow afterward and thanking us. It's a precious memory.

I am so grateful my grandma gave birth to this "disabled" baby. He has been a tremendous gift to this family!
When I hear someone talk about their family member who has special needs I hear it in a different way. I recognize the specialness of the human they are referring to. I also know that there can be some tremendous pressures and extra care that comes along with caring for people who can't care for themselves.
 But mostly I think of the person as a unique opportunity to see past oneself into a world where normal is overrated and  the ultimate belief that this soul is  made as much in the image of God as you or I are.

 My hope is that all people will one day be able to see the tremendous gift that life is.

No matter if the person behind the eyes has difficulty understanding things that may seem simple to us, or their body doesn't function in the way that others do, or perhaps they were given only a few years to leave their foot print here on earth.
All life is Sacred.
All humans have value.

In the words of Tiny Tim. The Handicapped son of Bob Cratchit, In Charles Dickens famous book, A Christmas Carol, 
"God bless us EVERYONE".

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