DOWNS: A DISABILITY
God sends us angels at unexpected times and in unexpected places.
My husband and I were on duty at our local Driver Reviver station. Volunteers were short that weekend and we were about halfway through an eighteen-hour shift. Starting early, the day had been reasonably busy, but we had had one or two short breaks during which we tidied the site and replenished supplies tea, coffee, and biscuits.
This station was situated in a church hall, not the usual caravan on the side of the road. This entailed housekeeping duties as well, but the advantages of having shelter in bad weather times far outweighed any perceived inconveniences.
During long weekends and on weekends during the school holidays the station was opened early Friday evening, closed Saturday midnight, and reopened early Monday morning on long weekends only. Usually shifts were run on a four hourly basis, with no less than two volunteers on any shift. As happens with volunteers, some of our best workers were also volunteers with SES and Rural Fire Brigade. This, of course, meant that on some occasions these precious people were not available for their normal Driver Reviver shift, and was the reason we were on an extended shift on that particular afternoon.
It was towards four in the afternoon when we waved goodbye to the last family through. A toddler blew kisses over Dads shoulder, and a small boy turned to wave every five or six steps. They had been a happy family; very appreciative of the small service we had been able to offer. People like these made the long hours very worthwhile, and they far outnumbered the few who criticized the Driver Reviver sponsors and providers.
As we finished brushing up the crumbs and refilling the biscuit trays three people came in Mum, Dad and a boy of about twelve or thirteen years. After looking through the tourist information we had on hand, Mum came over to get cups of tea and a cool drink for the lad, asking if they might take them to the chairs outside. It was very pleasant in the shade under the trees, and she said the boy would be happier outside.
Soon afterwards I noticed that he had left his cap on the table indoors, so I took it out to them. When he turned to thank me he bumped his orange drink and it spilled. It was then I noticed that he was a Downs Syndrome child. I fetched him another drink and stopped to chat with his mother. The lad was occupied with a Gameboy, and took little notice while we discussed their holiday trip and plans for the remainder of their journey. My husband joined us as we had no other customers, and we enjoyed a very relaxed visit together. Until Mum looked at her watch and realized they had been there for almost an hour!
Dad took their cups and biscuit papers to the bin while Mum explained to their son that it was time to get back in the car he must say goodbye. He looked up at my husband with a shy smile and a nod. Then he turned to me, ran over, threw his arms around me and gave me the biggest hug. Looking up, he said a little indistinctly, I love you!
What do you do at a time like that? It was so unexpected, so heartbreakingly beautiful. I held an angel in my arms. I hugged him right back, struggling through tears to respond. Then they were gone.
Downs Syndrome is a disability. Because I have had little experience of disabilities, I am never quite sure how to approach disabled people. In the case of this young lad who seemed to be engrossed with his game, I had no cause for concern. He glanced at his Mum and I now and then. I smiled at him when I saw him looking at us. Nothing more. I did nothing to deserve his loving demonstration. It tore me apart. He will live in my heart forever.
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