My little sister, actually my seventh sister, Colleen Patricia White, celebrated her 40th birthday this week. That would not usually be remarkable, except for the fact that Colleen is remarkable. Colleen, born within a year of the issuing of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade opinion, was born with Down Syndrome. Besides getting the extra chromosome associated with Down Syndrome, she was born with a life-threatening intestinal problem that caused the doctors to discretely ask my parents if they really wanted her to undergo the surgery that would be necessary to save her life. Hint. Hint. Thankfully, my parents insisted on the surgery, and here she is, 40 years later.
Colleen has taught me that the world’s standards of beauty, intelligence, talent and usefulness are not the basis of human dignity.
Some of you may know people with Down Syndrome, and if you do, you know that they are special and beautiful in their own way. Colleen is beautiful too, but not by the world’s standard of beauty. We live in a throw-away world, but Colleen has taught me that the world’s standards of beauty, intelligence, talent and usefulness are not the basis of human dignity.
Several years ago, I was dining at Rein’s Deli in Vernon, Connecticut with Colleen and several members of my family. Colleen started to raise a bit of a ruckus and we perceived that she was starting to disturb the other diners. I offered to wheel her – she was in a wheel chair – outside for a bit. As I walked with her, weaving between the other tables, I first felt embarrassed. Then a small voice, maybe my conscience, maybe God, said, “No, this is good for your soul and there are several people here who need to see the love and care you show to your sister.” It then dawned on me that Colleen’s purpose or mission or “ministry” was her very presence, and not anything she would accomplish by her actions. Throughout her whole life, she’s been bringing out the very best in others every day, in love and care. I can honestly say, and I know my mother and siblings would agree, that her presence in our family has been a profound gift to us.
Happy Birthday, Colleen!