I sit here, wearing my Down syndrome awareness shirt, still basking in the afterglow of an amazing weekend surrounded by families touched in a beautiful and profound way by the extra chromosome that makes up Trisomy 21, Down syndrome. I have so much to say, but honestly don't know where to start. I could talk about how Samantha couldn't tolerate the sessions, sensitive to small, warm, crowded rooms, applause, laughter, you name it. I could talk about how awesome my husband and my mother were, helping to entertain her so I, at least, could make the most of the conference. I could talk about how absolutely inspirational and amazing the self-advocates were, painting a bright and colorful future in broad strokes across the canvas of their lives, across the white space in my mind reserved for plans and dreams not yet realized. I could talk about the sessions, full of information and guidance to better ourselves as parents, advocates, therapists, care-givers, teachers. I could talk about the vendor tables in the exhibit hall, bubbling over with merchandise and information, manned by enthusiastic delegates ready to hear your story, create a link to their mission, provide you with the tools you need to meet your goals.
But, for now, I think I will talk about one major thing that struck me most this weekend.
Woodley Park is a neighborhood I am well familiar with, having lived just up the street from there for nearly 14 years of my life. The NDSC conference hotel was mere steps away from the Metro station in the heart of the 'hood, convenient in so many ways. Transportation, restaurants, entertainment, the zoo...it's all there. On Friday evening, my mother, Samantha and I had dinner in a pizza restaurant in Woodley Park. Once we'd settled in, I had a look around me. There, at tables on all sides of us, were people with Down syndrome. Adults, children, babies...all there dining with their parents, having an ordinary evening out, dressed like anyone else, eating their dinner like anyone else, enjoying the time with their families like anyone else. The wait staff, busy juggling so many full tables while a line began to form outside, served them like anyone else.
The incidence of people with Down syndrome within a random sampling of people had jumped from the usually-acknowledged 1 in 691 to an incredible 1 in about 5.
1 in 5.
I had the enviable glimpse of what the world could be like with the invaluable addition of so many more of our enhanced children/friends/family members.
It would be so much the same as the world on any other day.
And, as we walked through the neighborhood after dinner, I hoped that the usual residents and visitors to Woodley Park (and to DC in general) would see this, would see that people with Down syndrome really are More Alike Than Different. That they deserve a place at their tables, on their trains, in their shops, museums, schools, homes, just like the rest of us, and that the world will still turn, friendships will still be forged, love will still be found, jobs would still be done, and lives would still be ordinary.
The world would be so much a better place. Extraordinarily ordinary. Open minds, open hearts, open eyes.
I think we did just that in DC this weekend.
I had wondered why NDSC's annual conference was held in a different city each year. I mean, why not strive for consistency, for predictability, for more mild-climate locations...?
But now I know why.
And I'm pretty sure DC is a much better place today than it was last Wednesday.