Wednesday, August 12, 2009
On Tuesday, August 11, 2009, Eunice Kennedy Shriver passed away. She is not known simply for being the sister of John F. Kennedy and mother of Maria Shriver, wife of Arnold Swartzenegger. She is also known and celebrated as one who demonstrated a deep commitment to our special needs community by helping to found the Special Olympics. How ironic it is that we would lay Mrs. Shriver to rest at such a crucial time in our nation when we are debating health care and the value of human life--a woman who offered opportunity and competition to those with special needs. May her commitment to them speak to us now and challenge us to have the same respect for all life.
I expected Sarah Palin to have a comment about the passing of Mrs. Shriver, and of course, being the class act that she is, she did offer her condolences on her Facebook page:
Our Condolences on the Passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver
Tuesday at 7:37 pm
On behalf of the Palin family, we are saddened by the passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Her passionate dedication to improving the lives of so many people created new opportunities and hope around the world, including for our precious miracle, Trig.
With sympathy to the Kennedy and Shriver families,
In honor of our special needs community, I am reposting three things that I posted in earlier months. The first one is a video of Sarah Palin expressing how grateful she is that her son Trig, who has Down Syndrome, will be able to enjoy sports and competition, thanks to Special Olympics. The second video is a portion of Sarah's speech at the Vanderburgh County Right to Life Banquet where she discusses the range of emotions she encountered upon learning Trig would be born with special needs. In this video she also shares the joy that filled her heart the second he was born. Finally, I have included an article I wrote called, "Sarah and Little Trig Palin Come to my Classroom." In it I share how Trig's story transformed my lesson and opened the door for my students to share their hearts in a special, transparent way. In fact, Trig actually changed my complete outlook and approach to teaching a novel I had taught for many years.
I am so grateful for Eunice Kennedy Shriver for her contribution to our special needs community. And I thank God for Sarah Palin who continues to be a voice of appreciation and respect for all human life. Whether the unborn, children with special needs, or the elderly in need of health care, Sarah Palin understands, as she said on the campaign trail, "I believe the truest measure of any society is how it treats those who are least able to defend and speak for themselves."
Sarah and Little Trig Palin Come to My Classroom
I teach 7th grade English Language Arts, and I had the most amazing experience Tuesday in my classes. We are about to begin a novel, one that I have done with my classes just about each of the 13 years that I've been teaching. The class participated in an introductory activity, followed by an intense discussion. I had never before done this particular activity to start this book, but the most powerful aspect of it was inspired by Sarah Palin and the story of her son Trig, who has Down Syndrome.
It was Trig's story that led me to include the topic of special needs individuals, and their place in the world, in the conversation. Although the subject is relevant to the upcoming novel, had I never learned about Trig, I would have never even considered bringing up the issue of special needs. It would have never even crossed my mind, as it never has in the past. I'm so grateful that she came on the scene with Trig's story on her lips and in her heart because this particular issue broke something open in my classroom--and in me. What Trig's life did for my class was something I will not soon forget. I learned more than my students did Tuesday.
As I simply facilitated the discussion and allowed the kids to express themselves, I listened to students who clearly have an understanding of the sanctity of every single life. They poured out their hearts as they spoke compassionately about what people with special needs contribute to our lives. They lovingly mentioned family members who have physical or developmental challenges whom they "can't even imagine living without." In one class, a student said we need special needs people in the world because they help us. Now there's something you don't hear often. In fact, we usually think about how much we have to help them. But this 7th grader's vision is sharper than most, for he went on to express how much richer they make our lives, how they help us see things differently. I then told them that about 90% of Down Syndrome pregnancies, for example, end in abortion--and silence followed.
My heart was full that day, and I was so proud. With all the talk about abortion, and embryonic stem cell research, and people shooting people up; with all that we've lost as a society in terms of how we view one another, make fun of one another, and dispense so easily of one another; with the sad realization that our so-called progressive attitudes have come at the expense of the innocence of our children, I was privileged to listen to teenagers defend the value of the vulnerable, unapologetically profess the blessing these individuals are, and unashamedly announce the joy they bring to our lives--just the way they are. I think of this, and I am so very glad to do what I do: spend my days with children who seem to know a heck of a lot more than adults about compassion, love, and life.
I thank Sarah Palin for being woman enough not to add to the horrible statistic of Down Syndrome abortions, for trusting God enough to give birth to her promise, and for sharing his story with the world. Sometimes we just don't know what our seemingly small experience can possibly do for the world. But this story--Trig's story--changed this teacher's perspective, her lesson plan, and most of all, her heart.