Friday, November 7, 2008

Welcome to Holland!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about anticipating the birth of my first niece. Well a couple extra weeks after we first expected her, our little one arrived safely. Soon after her birth, though, the doctors were checking out her heart and lungs, and broke the news to my sister and brother-in-law: their baby has Down Syndrome. She also has a valve issue in her heart (present in 50% of all babies born with Down Syndrome), and will need surgery to repair it when she is 4-6 months old.

The initial shock of such a diagnosis is hard to describe. You mourn for the child that you expected to arrive who will not be coming after all, but at the same time you have to get it together to properly welcome the little blessing who HAS shown up. A mother from the school where I teach kindly sent me a bag full of info on Down Syndrome, and I soon read an analogy that totally fits. It goes like this:

You've been dreaming of going to Italy for years. For months you plan a trip. You read the guidebooks, talk with friends who have seen the wonders, and research all the possible ways to travel. You book a flight, pack your bag, and get on the plane. Dreaming of the Roman Forum, the shop windows of colored glass in Venice, and the cobalt blue waters off the Isle of Capris, you make your 10 hour flight. And finally, the flight attendant comes to the speaker and says, "Welcome to Holland! We're so glad you're here!" And you protest, "Holland?! Are you kidding? I bought a ticket to Italy! What am I doing in Holland?"

Now, after the initial shock of realizing that you are in fact in another country altogether, you can either bemoan the fact that you are not in Italy and will not be seeing any Bernini sculpture on this trip, or you can accept the fact that you actually are in Holland, and get out to see the tulips. Or Amsterdam, or the Hague, or the art museums, or the fashion world. Holland has its own charms. A lot of us just don't know what they are. What I've found, though, is that when you start calling up your friends and you say, "Guess what? I'm in Holland, not Italy," a number of them do know what's to be seen there, at least the highlights, and they wish you well on your unexpected adventure.

It's hard to put words around the blessing that a child with Down Syndrome is, but everybody seems to know that special things happen in their presence. I know for myself that the class of students I am teaching this year is far kinder, far more gentle, and far more accepting than most groups of high school juniors I've met, because of the presence of one such blessing in their class. I hope and pray that my niece will cause a similar effect in the people she encounters.

Why does this kind of thing happen? Who knows? God has a sense of humor, I guess, and gives us what we need, whether or not we recognize it. We may have been hankering for a trip to Italy, but perhaps God knows best that what we really need we will get from a journey through Holland. It probably won't be easy; it may take a while to catch up on this country's guidebooks. We may have to figure out some feats of navigation by trial and error. But like in my childhood vacations where Dad simply suggested we all "go west," I imagine we have some wonderful times and beautiful vistas ahead. Who are we to imagine we're in control of everything anyway?

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