I saw a picture of Facebook this morning. It was the picture of a little girl with Down Syndrome, she was happy, smiling, looking out at the world through trusting eyes.
And I immediately felt a jumble of emotions:
I felt an overwhelming sadness at the prejudice that she will face in her life. It has been said, recently, that her birth was an immoral act. That she has little or nothing to contribute. That her life will be one lived without point, without purpose.
I felt an overwhelming sense of pride at the fact that this little girl, her smile, her grace, her joy at living in that moment when the camera shutter clicked, was a member of my community. My community. Our disabilities are different but our cause is the same. Justice isn't for just us, it's for all of us.
I felt an overwhelming sense of hope knowing that her journey would be one that includes family, includes neighbours and friends, includes schools and hallways, includes inclusion. I felt a hope that her life will be filled with the love that surrounds her now and a hope that that love will sustain her in times of need, because there will be times of need.
I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility, as a disabled man, to continue the fight for the acceptance of difference, for the end of tolerance and beginning of welcome. It's my job as a member of the disability community to do what needs to be done, to write the letters that need to be written, to speak the words that need to be said, to not fail to confront bullies and bias and bigotry. She looks at the world with trusting eyes. It is my responsibility to attempt to make that trust justified.
I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude to her mom and her dad who took the picture, who shared their love of her with the world. But much more than that. I felt gratitude that they, not only gave her life, but welcomed her into their life. This has not always been true for children with disabilities. This is less and less often true when Down Syndrome is first identified. An act of love that is, at the same time, an act of political courage. The love in her eyes, as she looks towards the camera her father holds, makes liars out of those who say, who continue to say, that she has nothing to give.
A simple picture on a Facebook page. Is an act of love but it's also an act of defiance. And in my experience defiant love is the fuel behind every great social movement, every great revolution and every victory of social justice. She's the spark, we are the fire.