Sean runs track through Special Olympics. He just started a couple of weeks ago but my husband couldn’t imagine a better fit for a boy bubbling over with energy. The team meets on Sundays at a high school track near our home. We didn’t know what to expect. Sean did soccer through S.O. and we were extremely happy with the outcome.
The first practice was unusually sunny, the grass was bright green cut short in the middle of the track. We decided that Sean would run the 400 and do the long jump. My husband stayed close to keep Sean focused.
They broke up into groups and Sean was paired with Jeff, a man probably in his twenties who had Downs. The buzz about Jeff is that he was clearly the fastest. He had a strong pace and good form and he was proud of his reputation. Sean and Jeff ran a practice run of the 100 and the 200, Sean’s pace strong, keeping in his lane a bit of struggle but full steam ahead. Jeff finished first followed by Sean. He waited for Sean and gave him a high five. I was near the fence waving madly at Sean, clapping and telling him that he did great. Sean gave me a quick smile and looked back at Jeff as Jeff placed his hand on Sean’s shoulder and said kindly,
“Let’s get back over to where the rest of the runners are.” They walked off together.
I wanted to hug Jeff and thank him for taking such tender care of my boy. Would this happen in a typical situation? Would a typical peer put his hand on my son, a gesture of friendship and kindness, or would a typical person not really know what to make of Sean? It didn’t seem to matter to Jeff. Sean was a little kid with fast legs and big eyes and he was looking out for him.
Later my husband and I waited by some benches near the track. A young woman, maybe twenty years old or so came up to us with her hand out and introduced herself,
“Hi, I’m DJ,” her hand searching for mine.
She wore an “Oregon School for the Blind” t-shirt and she had a tick disorder, maybe Tourettes syndrome and possibly had high functioning autism. We talked for a bit. She was going to do the shot put and the 200 -- these were the events that she felt where she excelled. At the end of our conversation she said simply,
“I enjoy enjoying life.”
My husband smiled at her and said, “We should all have that attitude, DJ.”
I couldn’t respond. I was falling through her words, lingering in the peacefulness that she brought to us. She was legally blind, had a constant tick and social impairment issues and yet she took nothing for granted -- the sunshine warming her bare arms, the rush of wind against her skin when she ran and the weight of the shot put in her arms. Life was not going to be wasted on her. She was not going to sit in darkness and loneliness. Absolutely not. She was grateful for the life she had been given as imperfect as it might have seem to others.
Sometimes I think our definition of success is too narrow. We translate success to the houses we build and lavishly decorate, the imported sleek cars we drive, the expensive vacations we take, the country clubs we join and the jewels that hang on our wrists and fingers. In our culture this symbolizes success -- we have arrived. We have made it.
And yet that Sunday, on a high school track field, I saw achievements that are intangible and often forgotten but are so much more important and valuable. I saw a young man take Sean under his wing, his generous feathers protecting and guiding my child. A man who some may feel sorry for or think how lucky they are to not be him never knowing how beautiful and kind he was.
I saw a girl, who many would guess carried the world heavy on her shoulders, but instead walked with the lightness of an angel, spreading her smile like wings and offering up hope and happiness. She said it perfectly, she “enjoyed enjoying life.”
How often do we ask ourselves this --- are we enjoying our lives? Do we work too hard for stuff that we think will make us happy; forgetting to slow down and to spend time searching each other’s hearts where happiness is truly housed.
I learned more from these two people on a Sunday in April then I have learned in a long while. Driving past this track meet, some may laugh at, make fun of, feel pity for or be frightened of my child and the other disabled athletes. But the members of that track team will have the last laugh -- they get it. They know that life is what you make of it regardless of limitations. That life is a present, wrapped and hidden deep in our souls. A present to be opened and cheerished.
Sam Smiles Project
3 months ago