My friend, author Amy Julia Becker is Princeton-educated, intelligent, physically attractive, and from a world of relative privilege. And she unexpectedly gave birth to a daughter with Down syndrome.
In the hospital after delivery, she and her husband Peter scrambled to learn about Down syndrome as they reeled and grieved over the news that had flipped their lives upside down, even as they tried to welcome Penny, the child they had anticipated so keenly and now held in their arms.
Amy Julia has written a beautiful book, A Good and Perfect Gift, about Penny, about disabilities, about wrestling with God over big questions in our lives, and about what a valuable life is, what a good life is. These are all things she’s learned over the six years that she has parented Penny and two younger siblings.
I bought and read the book because she’s a fine writer and — mostly — because she’s my friend. I would have said, “I’m not that interested in reading a book about disabilities; it doesn’t apply to me.” How wrong I was. This book has universal application for anyone who’s ever wondered why life doesn’t always go as planned or who’s wrestled with how we define “good.” It’s a powerful, brilliant book, and I’d like to write about it twice this week here.
First off, I was struck deeply when I read, “I’ve either ignored or avoided a whole group of people for my entire life,” something Amy Julia wrote about saying to her husband after she quickly went online after Penny’s birth and learned that there were 350,000 people with Down syndrome in the United States. She went on to say, “I always thought that people with disabilities just weren’t my thing. I’m so ignorant…. it’s more than that. I feel like I’ve never had time to even acknowledge these people’s existence, much less to actually get to know them.”
What I had to wrestle with while reading this book is this: “What categories of people do I ignore or avoid, not acknowledge the existence of, or refuse to get to know?” and “About whom do I say, ‘Being with those sorts of people just isn’t my thing?'”
I’m not saying that we can know representatives of every single people group on the planet, nor am I insisting we must advocate for the needs of every single branch of humanity. We all have limits to our time and resources, and we each are rooted geographically in ways that help determine where we’ll spend our lives and our energies.
But I am talking about affording respect to all people and assuming that every human being has value and worth and dignity and beauty.
So here are the questions again: “What categories of people do I ignore or avoid, not acknowledge the existence of, or refuse to get to know?” and “About whom do I say, ‘Being with those sorts of people just isn’t my thing?'”
I’m not ready to put my answer to paper, but I can assure you that, sadly, I have an answer to the question. And I’m ashamed of that.
How about you?
Amy Julia writes all over the place; you can find her at Huffington Post, New York Times’ Motherlode, etc. You can link to more of her work through her site.