Lessons from Claudia - Simple gifts from my aunt with Down Syndrome

Written by Amy Ferretti

I was blessed to have been born into a loving family, everyone of us taught from birth to give back to the community, to have charity in our hearts, to not judge people but instead to look for the good in them. Our parents instilled all these things in our hearts and souls from as long as I can remember. But there is one lesson I learned from day one that did not come from my parents, but instead I was taught by my Aunt Claudia.
You see, my Aunt Claudia was the most loving, funny, honest, peaceful, guileless woman I have ever (or will ever) known. I was blessed to have been born with an aunt with Down Syndrome.

Even now, thinking of her after her passing so many years ago all I can do is smile through the tears. I can assure you she would not have wanted me to cry at all but to laugh. Seeing me this way she would cross her eyes at me and stick out her tongue because she was irritated that I was sad. She always wanted laughter, always wanted joy.

Having her in my life was a lesson I didn't even realize I was getting until years after she left us. It wasn't until I was an adult starting to truly develop my social conscience that I realized how much of who I am, what I believe, how I think is because of her. You see, she was never different to me, there was never anything about her, not the way she looked, not that way she acted, not her speech - nothing - that was out of the ordinary to me. She was just my Aunt Claudia. But other people saw her differently, probably judged her because of their own prejudices, and the horrible ones I am sure laughed at her. To them, she was different and had nothing to offer from whatever standard they judged life by. Sure, she never had a job, she never contributed to the GNP, she lived a life of just being her; we live in a world where that kind of thing appears to make you less of a human being.

In the end the only people who lost out were the ones who never appreciated her beauty, her soul, her intelligence, and her worth. In many ways she was greater than all of us and because I got to know her for who she was, not who she "should" be or "couldn't" be, I got to know the real her. Because of her it became ingrained in me that when we meet people we need to meet who they are, not just what we see. If we do not take the time to look into every heart we come across, into the eyes of every stranger, then we do ourselves and them an injustice. Each and everyone of us has a story to tell, a gift to give and it is only through losing our prejudice and casting aside our predispositions that we are able to see people for what they are.

In the end we are all the same regardless of where we are from, how much money we have, or how "smart" we are. Under all of us beats a heart and we make the choice whether or not to live a life of joy and acceptance and I will always be grateful to my Aunt Claudia for showing me that.

FaithBob Ferretti