“I was angry… we were not going to be staying at a

Shanti (#44) by j / f / photos

This past summer, my family were planning a trip to California and I was filled with anticipation and excitement. Finally I was going home, back to the state where, not only was I born; but where my father grew up; where my first words were spoken; and where my parents became my parents. After months of sorting destination options, calculating expenses, searching for hotels, and motels, and even, as my two year old brother would say, “Homotels“, we were ready to leave.

I was ready for a life changing week.

As an immature teenager, my hormonal levels causing massive daily mood swings, I was prone to slight anger when things did not go exactly as I imagined. So when my parents told me that we were not going to be staying at a five-star-celebrity-filled-pleasure-factory-resort-spa, but rather with some friends I had long since forgotten, I was slightly… angry.

Before we arrived to the “friends” home (I didn’t call them “friends”, seeing as at the time, I had not consciously been aware of their existence – since my age was roughly equivalent to that of the life span of a rhinoceros beetle) my parents added another twist to the plight that might ruin my vacation: one of our friends’ children suffered from mild Down’s syndrome. My high expectations plummeted. While I was not mad that I thought I was going to have to live with a child who could not control himself fully most of the time, I was nervous that the rest of my trip was going to be rather awkward.

We pulled into their neighborhood. We pulled up to their house. We unloaded our luggage from our rental vehicle. We came to the door. We knocked. The door opened. And there, right before me was little Daniel, arms outstretched, ready for me to embrace him in a giant bear-hug, dying to give his new-found friend a jovial welcome. Hurried thoughts rushed to my head. Should I hug back? Should I shirk away? Should I turn, march back to the car and refuse to come out until we went to the five-star-celebrity-filled-pleasure-factory-resort-spa? I didn’t know what to do. Daniel grabbed my hand and excitedly explained how much fun we were going to have, and then swallowed my torso in a laughter-filled hug of love.

I was lucky: he answered my questions for me.

I didn’t understand how this young boy could be so welcoming to someone he had never met. I had always assumed that children with Down’s wouldn’t know what to do when they met someone new.

It was awkward: I didn’t know how to deal with someone as happy as Daniel.

And then I asked myself why: why was it uncomfortable for me to be around someone so outright sincere? How could it be that jocularity, happiness, and positivity were traits that I felt were not inherent in most “normal” people? Could it be that society has beaten me down and inundated me with so much negativity that I no longer found happiness to be commonly shared by all people?

In that instant, my outlook on life changed.

Everything I thought about happiness before I met Daniel felt wrong. I realized that despite the mental handicaps he may have, hindering his everyday life, he has the gift of joy, a gift that each one of us can bring to everyone else. We are given the chance to overcome society’s sometimes overwhelming sense of hopelessness.

I grew up in that moment.

I realized that there is more to life than just existing, that each moment we have is potentially the next to last, that the experience may not be what we wanted, but something better: real life.

I was right. The week was life-changing, not because of my spotting Posh Spice in a five-star-celebrity-filled-pleasure-factory-resort-spa, but because of the passion for life I saw in a little kid, who didn’t care about a thing other than making everyone’s life around him as special as he was.

I realized that life changing moments are never planned.

Mark Neufeld.
Mark is a senior in high school and aspires to be a writer. This is how he wrote to us:

“Hello, my name is Mark Neufeld. I am a senior in high school and am an aspiring writer. I love your website. I always find it uplifting and eye-opening, so I would like to submit an essay. It is one of my favorites. I wrote it for college. I hope you like it.”

One of our readers, Colleen Angell, wrote this in our Guest Book: “Mark! You ARE a writer. What a great story. I’m glad I decided to click the link tonight as I filed through my 100+ emails.Thanks for inspiring this 50+ year old lady.”

Kindly contributed to Zen Moments by the author.

Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives, by Kathryn Lynard Soper Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives

ByKathryn Lynard Soper

Gifts is a poignant and inspirational collection of stories written by mothers of children with Down Syndrome. These mothers, each with a unique story, graciously and honestly offer us a glimpse of their journey.”

“In this candid and poignant collection of personal stories, sixty-three mothers describe the gifts of respect, strength, delight, perspective, and love, which their child with Down syndrome has brought into their lives… Their diverse experiences point to a common truth: The life of a child with Down syndrome is something to celebrate. These women have something to say – not just to other mothers but to all of us.” Amazon Reviews

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