Before my child was born with Down Syndrome, I never thought about what it meant to have a child that was Special. Because all my kids were special. Each one is unique, with his or her own talents, abilities and struggles. They are all special. But Stella is Special, with a capital S. It’s a little something extra.
That extra chromosome has done something remarkable and different to her, that I never could have understood before I knew her. One tiny extra chromosome has changed everything.
Let me explain with a story.
One evening, when Stella was about two years old, our family visited a church that was not our own. As presentations were made by speakers, Stella got a bit antsy, so I left the pew and stood in the back of the church to bounce her in my arms. Maybe she would fall asleep, so I could hear the presentations and learn something. I had a few stressors at the time, and could use a bit of a spiritual boost. I was looking forward to this.
But Stella had another idea. She wiggled and wriggled, trying energetically to get down, away from me. In her deep, low voice, she started to repeat “Dow. Dowww!” She emphatically wanted down, and she wasn’t about to be shushed. I set her down on the floor, and she began ambling straight toward a man against the back wall. I followed, trying to quietly corral her back in a corner where we could have a little personal space, and wouldn’t disturb anyone. No way. Stella persisted, and beelined as fast as she could, right up to the man.
He was stern looking, bearded, and wearing old jeans. Stella walked right up to him, and hugged his leg.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, and sheepishly retrieved my child.
For the next five or ten minutes, we repeated this scene.
People were starting to stare.
Stella would yell at me to let her down, and right away, she’d run to the man, and hug his leg.
Soon she began to call “Uppa! Uppa!”
The man looked bewildered.
“I’m sorry,” I stammered. “She wants you to pick her up.”
“Really?” He looked surprised. Then he leaned down, and held out his arms. My little Stella embraced him, tightly wrapping her arms around his neck.
I stood right next to him, watching.
Stella buried her face in his bearded neck, gently touching the back of his head with her small fingers. She petted him, and rested. A group of people watched Stella, no longer paying any attention to the speaker. Everyone in the back of the crowded church was watching the toddler hugging the grizzled man.
She rested for about ten minutes like that, nestled in his arms. Loving him.
When the speaker finished whatever it was she was saying, the man gently handed my daughter back to me.
“Thank you,” he said, and walked away, into the starry night. A tear glistened on his cheek.
After he left, a man and woman approached me. “Do you know that man?” They asked.
“I am astonished that your daughter went up to him like that!”
“He’s the crankiest, grumpiest man! He doesn’t talk to anyone, he always just stands in the back, scowling and waiting.”
Before I knew Stella, I would have been surprised. Perhaps embarrassed, even. But not now. Now I know Stella. That little extra chromosome has given her a superpower, an ability to love others, unfiltered. Unchained by manners, or propriety, or personal space issues. Without words, without a presentation, or a speech… With something as simple and uncomplicated as a hug, she helps people feel God’s love.
And I am not surprised at all.
Because now, I know.
Sometimes Special comes with a capital “S”.