I am pro-life. I have been advised on how to answer this question - say this, don’t say that. I have EVEN been advised to change my position. I can’t. I thought maybe I should speak about the nuances of Roe v. Wade, but the reasons for my position are not that complicated. In grad school I listened to a student deliver a presentation on how to remove Down Syndrome from the gene pool through selective abortion. I listened attentively. When he was finished, I stood up and told the following story:
I grew up on Love Lane in Kittery, Maine. That’s right, LOVE Lane. I was the youngest of seven children. At times you would have thought there was an 8th Scontras. His name was Billy. Billy Wurm was our neighbor. He graced our lives for more than 50 years. Billy had Down Syndrome. Sometimes Ya-ya, my Greek grandmother, would come stay with us. She spoke NO English, and she didn’t like to go to the beach with us. She would stay home by herself - quite content. She would walk about the yard, sit in the shade. I will never forget one particular July day when we returned home to find Billy and Ya-ya hand in hand, walking peacefully around the yard, talking to one another. Funny thing is, Billy couldn’t understand a word Ya-ya said, nor could Ya-ya understand Billy. Yet she had a wonderful look of peace and happiness on her face. Billy was also wearing his perpetual smile.
Years earlier when I was 3 or 4 years old, I stumbled and fell into our neighbor’s pool. No one was around. No one except for Billy Wurm, that is. I will never forget the image of Billy’s face coming toward me as I panicked in silence beneath the water’s surface. He scooped me up and placed me safely on the pool’s edge. I could tell you many more stories about Billy, each one suggesting some greater purpose to life. But they would all need to be considered in the context of that life-saving experience. Were it not for Billy, well…
Society hungers for perfection in our selves and our children, to a fault. As a parent, I see it. We want perfect children, perfect communities, free from pain and toil. It’s only human. My point to the speaker was this - I understand that sometimes a child may place a burden on society for any number of reasons. But they also bring with them unexpected grace, joy and the ability to touch other lives beyond measure. The most wonderful lessons in life often come from those who have had to overcome the greatest obstacles. Their lives seem to teach us the most about our own. Thankfully, our world is full of such stories... full of people like Billy Wurm. To me, it is the human spirit that needs to be considered and protected. It reminds me of my favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” One living person has the ability to shape so many others. It’s dangerous territory when WE become the arbiters of life. I told my classmate that I thought his thesis was well written, but sadly mistaken. Without Billy there would have been a hole in my life, or perhaps a hole where my life had once been.
Billy also had something that each one of us long for - unbridled happiness, unconditional love of all things. As I concluded my observations that day in class, a young woman rose up behind me. “I wasn’t going to say anything,” she said, “but I’m glad Dean did.” She continued, “I have several children. The youngest has Down Syndrome. He is by far the happiest of the bunch!”