In America, there are about 400,000 people living with Down syndrome, yet there are still many misconceptions about the syndrome and those who have it. Unfortunately, many are quick to judge, and their stares and hushed whispers do not go unnoticed. But fortunately, there are those in this world who know better. Mom Pam De Almeida experienced this first hand.
The mother-of-two from Canada was at Tim Hortons with her 18-month-old daughter, Sophia. Sophia was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth, so unfortunately De Almeida is used to hurtful looks and comments from strangers. When two strangers approached her in the coffee shop, she braced herself for an upsetting encounter. What actually happened was a heartwarming moment. De Almeida wrote about the moving encounter on her Slice of Life Facebook page.
I sat in Tim Horton's with my daughter's as I do often. Two ladies sitting near us started to stare and whisper. This is a pretty frequent occurrence for us you see; because my daughter Sophia was born with Down Syndrome. I sat there and watched these two women crane their necks to get a better look at her; completely oblivious to the fact that I was staring right back. Today it bothered me. It really bothered me. Just then, a couple approached me, and I thought, "Oh great! More people who want to take a closer look!" The man greeted Sophia with a high five and a handshake, and Sophia smiled and waved back. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "I have a story I would really like to share with you. But I am afraid I wont get through it without choking up." I gently encouraged him to share, because now I was curious. This interaction was not what I was expecting. He told me that he had watched the news last night. There was an interview of a mother who had recently given birth to a child with a major disability. She was on the news defending her decision to keep her baby. She was defending her choice NOT to terminate despite her doctors encouraging her to do so. He said, "The point is, you never know a persons impact on the world. You can never know what a person is able to do unless you give them a chance." He looked at me just before he turned to walk away and said, "You are a beautiful person. Your daughter is beautiful. Congratulations!" I immediately started to cry. There I sat in the middle of a coffee shop crying into a paper napkin. That man was the first complete stranger to ever congratulate me on the birth of my daughter Sophia. He was the first complete stranger to recognize her WORTH. Her VALUE. Her BEAUTY. In a world where my daughter's life is whispered about, where she is stared at, this man saw her IMPORTANCE.
De Almeida explains how the man greeted Sophia with a high five and a handshake. He told De Almeida that he had a story he would like to share, but warned her he wouldn't be able to get through it without choking up.
The stranger discussed how he saw a news story about a mother defending her decision to keep her baby with a disability after doctors suggested she abort it. He finished the story,
"The point is, you never know a person's impact on the world. You can never know what a person is able to do unless you give them a chance."
Before he walked away, he said, "You are a beautiful person. Your daughter is beautiful. Congratulations!"
De Almeida writes the experience moved her to tears. "That man was the first complete stranger to ever congratulate me on the birth of my daughter Sophia. He was the first complete stranger to recognize her WORTH. Her VALUE. Her BEAUTY."
The post has resonated with many others since it was uploaded on Facebook. It has received numerous likes and over 7,000 comments. One Facebook user wrote, "Society is so judgmental! There is beauty in each and everyone [sic] ... "
The stranger walked away before De Almeida had a proper chance to respond, but De Almeida wrote to A Plus about what she would like to tell him: "Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. You took the time out of your day to share your story. You saw my daughter for her, not her disability. Not only did you make an impact on me, but your story was shared and I know it has impacted others now too. I will forever remember your words."
Furthermore, De Almeida told A Plus that the message she hopes people reading her Facebook will take away is to appreciate all lives.
"All life has value. All people have purpose. So next time you see someone who has a disability, say hi. Wave. Smile. Share a story or even ask questions. You just might make someone's day."
The stranger in the coffee shop, the many users on Facebook, and the other people who have made De Almeida's post go viral realize this. It doesn't take much to celebrate life. A sweet note, a high five, or in this case, some heartfelt words, make all the difference.