By G. Tracy Mehan, III on 5.4.12 @ 6:07AM
Down syndrome and the richness of life.
In George Will’s syndicated column, he celebrates his son Jon’s 40th birthday which is today. Jon has Down syndrome. With this gem, Will celebrates Jon’s life and the lives of so many other similar Americans who have enriched the lives of us all.
Jon was born in 1972 when a person with such a disability had a life expectancy of 20 years. Today that number is 60. Back then, as related by Will, he and his wife were confronted with a stunning question from their doctor the day after their child’s birth: “whether they intended to take Jon home from the hospital.” The Wills assumed that is exactly what they would do with their first born.
“Not doing so was, however, still considered an acceptable choice for parents who might prefer to institutionalize or put up for adoption children thought to have frequently bleak futures,” writes Will. “Whether warehoused or just allowed to languish from lack of stimulation and attention, people with Down syndrome, not given early and continuing interventions, were generally thought to be incapable of living well, and hence usually did not live as long as they could have.”
Unfortunately, today, not many get a chance to live at all. Jon Will “was born eight months before Roe v. Wade inaugurated this era of the casual destruction of pre-born babies,” notes Will. Given the “garish flowering of the baby boomers’ vast sense of entitlement to exemption from nature’s mishaps, and to a perfect baby,” in combination with the common use of prenatal genetic testing, 90 percent of these children are now aborted.
“Which is unfortunate, and not just for them,” says Will. “Judging by Jon, the world would be improved by more people with Down syndrome, who are quite nice, as humans go.” Will observes that these people were once called Mongoloids. “Now they are called American citizens…”
George Will illustrates the essential point that these children and adults expand and enhance the lives of those around them. He does not use these words, but I have heard it from many parents and family members blessed with a Down syndrome child that they increase the sum total of love, affection and generosity or self-giving wherever they go.
I recall dining at a chain restaurant that hired Down syndrome employees and hearing my father praise the company to the high heavens. We both saw the warmth and responsiveness of the customers to these earnest and dedicated employees. The young people working were diligent, productive and making some money, too. They were happy to be gainfully employed. As in so many things, my father was absolutely right.
Will notes that Jon, like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, always depends on the kindness of strangers. “Judging by Jon’s experience, they almost always receive it,” claims Will. What is it about these people which brings out the best in everyone else?
Jon is a great baseball fan. He frequents the clubhouse of the Washington Nationals and always does a few chores before a game. Jon will be at the game tonight as he is 81 times in a season where he sits behind the home team’s dugout.
“Major leaguers, all of whom understand what it is to be gifted, have been uniformly and extraordinarily welcoming to Jon, who is not,” writes his father.
Jon has “an underdeveloped entitlement mentality, has been equable about life’s sometimes careless allocation of equity. Perhaps this is partly because, given the nature of Down syndrome, neither he nor his parents have any tormenting sense of what might have been,” muses Will. “Down syndrome did not alter the trajectory of his life; Jon was Jon from conception on.”
George Will, an avid baseball fan himself, knows his son will be cheering the Nationals on to beat the Phillies who are in town. “Jon will be wishing them ruination, just another man, beer in hand, among equals in the republic of baseball.”
Happy Birthday, Jon! May you enjoy many more nights at the ballpark.
G. Tracy Mehan, III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.
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