My sister has Down syndrome. Can most people say this is a fact in their lives as well? No. In fact, statistically, only about 0.1 percent of the world’s population has this genetic abnormality.
Down syndrome is a chromosomal condition caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of the 21 chromosome.
My whole life I have seen people shy away from my sister Katy, who is 30 now, and often seem afraid of her. This behavior from others always made me laugh to myself and feel sorry for the people who would never let themselves hear my sister’s silly jokes and constant laughter. Just the other day she made up a rap song on the spot and danced around just to make us laugh.
I used to think that it was not fair that God created people like Katy. I used to feel sorry for the opportunities that she would never have.
After all, she did not choose to be born with Down syndrome. It really used to bother me to see how unfair life can be.
And then one day I had an epiphany: We “normal” people are the ones who need sympathy.
Katy is calm, always smiling and laughing, generous, thoughtful, absolutely hilarious; the list goes on. Other “normal” people that I have known for years have periodically shown sociopathic behaviors that are destructive to relationships and to themselves. Katy has never shown anti-social behaviors. She has always been able to get along with anyone willing to befriend her.
So what is “normal”? The world as we know it has been forged by thousands of years of war and strife over resources. We have killed in the name of God, created caste systems, manufactured weapons of mass destruction and hoarded wealth. This is the world created by “normal” people. Sometimes I like to think that we are the ones with mental disabilities and people like Katy who are naturally peaceful and happy are the more evolved race of human.
Katy, actually, has achieved more than most humans. She owns a frozen drink machine rental business that has business all over East Texas. She owns two high quality machines and a trailer to haul them. She has a full-time job helping others with disabilities at the Arc of Gregg County, a non-profit organization that provides services to people with intellectual disabilities within the community.
She has a passion for cooking. Some of my family’s favorite recipes–like this garlic and Parmesan cheese infused whole-grain bread– have been creations from my sister.
She is frequently asked to give speeches representing others like her to local service organizations like Kiwanis and AMBUCS and has given multiple testimonies in front of the Texas Legislature advocating better treatment and more state funding for group homes and people with disabilities.
Recently my sister was hired by DADS (Department of Aging and Disabilities) to give a presentation on the respectful language bill which would ban the word “retarded” from all legal documents in Texas and in its stead use the term “intellectual disabilities” when referring to people like Katy. The bill passed, became a law and Katy stood right beside Gov. Rick Perry as he signed the bill into Texas history.
In some of her spare time, Katy completes large word-find puzzle books. She has an impressive stack of them completed and hopes one day to hold a world record for having completed the most word-find puzzles. She has been working these puzzles for years, and to be honest, it is not uncommon for me to ask her how to spell certain words. She is never wrong.
Katy keeps her life and thoughts simple. She never troubles herself with the worries of money or who is in power. She worries about keeping herself and the people around her in good spirits. To me, Katy has what all the rest of us want: a life of true joy. And she does not have joy because of her condition. She has it because she chooses to have it. I consider my older sister the most enlightened being I have ever known.
Travis Hull is a sophomore communications major from Henderson.