My friend Emily and I spoke to 500 elementary school students today in grades four to eight. That’s at least five hundred more kids that got to see what a person with Down syndrome can do. We weren’t able to fit in the whole student body due to time and space constraints, but after our talk, which went well, we had a few extra minutes to visit with the kindergarten students and show off Emily’s Olympic medals.
Three kindergarten classes were smushed into one, and while the kids fidgeted in their seats, I introduced myself, and told them a little about our talk with the older grades and why we were visiting the school. Emily stood beside me, adorned in her red and white Team Canada rhythmic gymnastics suit with the rhinestones, looking glittery, fit and fantastic. She showed off a few of her moves with the ball and clubs, and then it was time for questions. Predictably – if you know kindergarteners – once one child asked the question, “I like your outfit,” several more kids tuned in with the same question, which was endearing and Emily gave each one of them her undivided attention.
Their questions aside, the moment that struck me as enduring came in the aftermath of our act. At the moment I turned my back, a little boy came up to Emily and said, “You look beautiful.” Just like that. I turned to see his earnest face, and suddenly feeling bashful with what he’d said and my eyes on him, he ran back to his seat. Emily took it in stride; she’s used to this kind of adoration and attention being a special Olympic athlete, I imagine, but I’m still processing the remark.
What struck me are two things: one, that old adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” That little boy had every right to tell Emily she was beautiful, because you could tell, in that moment, the way he saw her, she absolutely was.
And two, a lesser known adage perhaps, but one that I heard spoken at the World Down Syndrome Congress in India several years ago that has left a profound impact on me is that “Everyone has a beauty.”
Everyone has a beauty. Everybody.
Sometimes you just have to help others to see it.