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Down Syndrome and Evidence of the Divine

Doug Billings
August 1, 2009
  Reprinted with the permission of the author.

My Michael
My Michael. Photo courtesy of Photography by Brandi

Children are wonderful and awesome portals. When we gaze upon them we can be transported to alternate states of consciousness. We can see glimpses of the divine spark – the essence of God.

I have two sons. Grant is fifteen and Michael is six. Grant is a typical high school sophomore. (Notice how I didn't call him a "normal" high school sophomore – I'll explain later). Michael has Down syndrome and is as equally wonderful, loved and welcomed as his brother. Both have shown me glimpses of the divine. Each is unique and innocent in his own way and have many times over shown me pathways to God.

There is, however, something unique in the way that Michael gives me these glimpses and displays portals to the divine. He has something indefinable inside of him that purges prejudice, eliminates personality venom, deletes pride and encourages happiness, promotes joy and sustains unconditional love.

If we each had just a little bit of what these people have in them, the world would be a better place.

Science tells us that Down syndrome is caused by an extra chromosome — the 21st chromosome to be exact. This microscopic genetic addition has given those with DS special characteristics and personality traits that are consistent yet varied. Those who have DS have every chance to lead typical and productive lives. It also, in my opinion, draws others to them. They are almost always happy.

This is evident by the way I see Michael's school mates react to him. He goes to all-day kindergarten and from the very first moment he started riding the bus to school he has been the center of attention. It's really quite amazing to see children react to him. They can sense that he is not typical, but they don't know the real reason why – nor do they care. They dote on him, watch over him, request to sit next to him and to play with him.

There is no "normal" kid is there? I can't come to terms with lumping people into the category of "normal" since none of us really knows what normal is. We each have our own deficiencies. Both of my boys have individual talents and interests. Each will have their own set of issues as they continue to grow. There is no normal.

I once went to school to have lunch with Michael. I arrived a bit early and went to his classroom to "spy" on him through the door window. I discovered they were outside on this lovely day signing their school yearbooks. I stood and watched, unnoticed, as something wonderful appeared – another portal and display of the divine spark took place on that playground.

Kids of all ages and sizes were coming up to Michael to ask for his signature, his "autograph". Mind you, no other student was approached by the majority of all of the kids – only Michael was. Sixth graders, fifth graders, etc., all clamored to get close to this kindergardener to get his signature. One girl, wearing a school shirt, knelt down in front of him and asked him to sign the back of her shirt! This was wonderful, heart-warming, hilarious and divine all at the same time! After penning his name (which he writes very well) to their books and shirts, he would give them a high-five or shake their hand. Cute!

Thanks to early intervention at the Lee Ann Britain Infant Development Center in Kansas City and the excellent public school system that my kids belong to (Olathe, Kansas schools) Michael has been completely integrated into typical classrooms and receives specialized attention in a few areas. He has benefited from this inclusion. I can't tell you how many times parents and kids will see me in public with my boys and they stop to say hello to Michael! It's common for Michael to be walking in the school halls and other students of various ages shout out to him, giving him high-fives as they pass. They don't do this for "typical" kids with such regularity.

His teacher has commented numerous times how touched she is to see her kindergarden class react to Michael. She's been teaching for nearly twenty years and she claims she has never seen anything like it. For example, one day I forgot to pack Michael's blanket that he uses for nap time. The teacher told me that when she asked the class if anyone would like to share their blanket with him, every one of the kids raised their hands and pleaded to be the one who could do so!

To identify what it is about these special people that allows us to glimpse the divine isn't really difficult. It's something most of us pursue and long for – even if only subconsciously. It's the purity and innocence they have within them. I suppose I could credit that small, extra chromosome #21 for this. That's why I call it the "divine chromosome".

There are lessons for all of us typical people when we have the opportunity to gaze upon someone who has what society calls "disadvantages". We are called by God to accept and love all people and these special people openly and eagerly invite us to do so! What a rare and precious gift to be offered unconditional love. God placed the capacity in each of us to show others his divine spark. Most of us typical folks aren't able to do this as well as those with Down syndrome.

As I have often reflected, if God were to appear to me and tell me that if I wished it, he would make Michael typical I would respectfully decline his offer. I have received blessing in my life beyond compare because of the way Michael is and he has touched the lives of so many people I just can't imagine him any other way. Moreover, Michael himself is completely happy. I will ask him randomly, "Michael, are you happy?" And he always replies, "yes, Daddy, I am happy. How are you?"

Finally, consider the portals in your life and those who provide you glimpses of the divine. They could be your parents, your children, your spouse, or any number of others. Hug them and thank them for the incredible gift that they are to you. Then, when you are at prayer, thank God for the opportunity you have to see him through those you love.