Monday, February 24, 2014

Practice Kindness, Choose Happiness

I have this exact image and quote on my cupboard...staring at me everyday...
reminding me...prodding me...challenging me.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever get to see this man in person, 
but today I did.

I had the joy of witnessing the Dalai Lama's effusive, kind, tender-hearted presence at Santa Clara University.


My first take away from him was his ability to transcend time.
He had all the time in the world for every person.
No rushing.
Nothing but complete care and acceptance of the moment.
Every person was someone sacred.
Every moment mattered.

I know this man is called His Holiness by all sorts of people and I wonder:
is it a chicken or the egg kind of thing?
If you call someone holy do they rise to the occasion?

What would happen if we started thinking of ourselves as holy?
Would we pursue mindfulness and meditation and compassion so zealously that it would become real?
I wanna try that experiment on myself.
I'll keep you posted. :)

My second take away was the way he spoke about his mother.
He is the youngest child in his family. He felt his mom gave him nothing but affection.
He talked about how she would put him up on her shoulders and work in the fields and just enjoy his presence.  
He mentioned that there are seven billion people in the world and that all of them need this level of a mother's affection. 
His quote: "We need a special effort to build the feeling of affection for people who do not have it so therefore warm-heartedness or affection is very very important and an obligation."
 He wondered what our world would look like if everyone was given this affection.
It's a good question.
And also a good reminder.  
We all need affection and compassion, every day, all the time.  
No one earns it.

His biggest message was that compassion and kindness must be taught.
We must start with the littlest children and very carefully and intentionally teach this and then gradually move to the older children and keep at it...demonstrating kindess and compassion daily.

He maintains that the more compassionate mind = the more calm mind -- which creates more self-confidence, inner strength and less stress.
He reminded us of something that we intuitively know but never consciously think about:
self-centered = more stress
"Compassion brings inner peace and mental comfort."

Finally, he spent the last few minutes almost talking to himself.
He told each of us that we needed to go inward and know our conviction for ourselves.
We need our faith to be part of our life and part of our decision making.  It is only with this inner conviction that we can withstand the changing forces of our life and the confusing moral ambiguities of our time. He pounded his heart several times very forcefully, making his point...go inward and know yourself, your convictions, your priorities. 
In a nutshell: live an authentic life.

His giggle is what will linger in my mind the most.
All of the adversity he has faced...all of his own life lessons and at 78 he has a lot...have led him to be full of joy and ready to giggle.
His energy is contagious.

The event had a group of young children singing...their angelic voices filled the arena.
Their school's mission statement:
practice kindness, choose happiness

That's enough.
Let's do it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dear 8th Graders

Dear 8th Graders,

Way back in the fall of 2005, you entered kindergarten and a little experiment was going on.
You had a student in your class with an extra chromosome, otherwise known as Down Syndrome.
No one came out and told you about this student and you just accepted him the way you accepted all of the other children in your class.

He couldn't run as fast as you could.
He couldn't write as well as you could.
He couldn't speak clearly.
And yet, he was part of you.

You figured it out.
You naturally, without any adult intervention, knew that this guy needed some support.  
You let him use a different kind of basket when you played two on two basketball.
You threw the ball a bit differently so that he could catch it more often.
You walked a little slower to be by his side.

You accepted him.

Did you know you had a choice?

Not really...because we tricked you.
We just put him in your kindergarten class --
where kindergarteners just want to have fun.


When Patrick was born, as soon as he was born, the doctor whisked him away, checked him all over and brought him back to us a few hours later with a new label:
 Down Syndrome.

The doctor closed the door.
He put a sign on the door telling others not to visit us.
He didn't even let Jack or Mary Kate come in to see their little brother.
He thought this label would take some getting used to.  
He thought we would be crying and scared.
He wanted us to have time.

He was coming from a good place...trying to be kind...but in truth, he was being cruel.

You know why??

He never went to school alongside someone who had this label.
He was afraid of it.
He didn't understand it.
He thought it was worth grieving.

Patrick did not get a celebration in those first hours of his birth.
No joy.
No laughing and photo-ops.
A whole lot of serious.

Can you imagine?

Probably the one person who is as joy-filled as could be and that was his welcome.
Maybe that's why he celebrates birthdays, all birthdays, in the biggest way possible now.

What was it like when you were born?

Oh, how your family celebrated!
How loved and awaited you were.


So here we are nine years after beginning the experiment.
1,520 days you've been together.
Only 100 left until graduation.

I can't thank you enough for your acceptance.
Your grace.
Your friendship and kindness...

you know why?

Because you weren't nice out of pity or because morally you thought you should or because you were trying to be nice or even because your parents told you to be nice.

You were accepting because you had the chance to get to know someone before you knew his label.

Best of all, Patrick had this chance.

That was our dearest hope for Patrick...
at St. James he could be Jack and Mary Kate's little brother.  
He didn't have to be "Patrick with Down Syndrome".

He got to just be Patrick.

If only you could know how profound that gift is.
Everywhere else, and I mean everywhere else, he is "Patrick with Down Syndrome".

Here, in this little school of 300, he is label-less.
It's grace in the

Did you know that Patrick will be the first person with Down Syndrome to graduate from a Catholic school in our entire diocese???
He's the only person I know that has Down Syndrome and is on student council, anywhere.

Do you know that because of your acceptance and the way your class has shown the school and the bigger world how to be as people that you are changing the world?

For the better.

Do you know that still to this day principals and priests at other schools say no when a family that has a child with Down Syndrome asks to go to their parish school??
That craziness still happens.

Because that principal or that priest didn't go to school alongside of people with disabilities.
They're scared and ignorant.
They don't realize just how normal it is.

Someday you might be a principal.
Or a teacher.
Or a banker.
Or a parent.

I know that your kindness and awareness will be reflected in those jobs.
I can't wait to see what you do with your level of justice and equality and care.
I'm so excited about our future.
Because of you.
(And your parents, of course.)

Let's make the last 100 days the best yet.
Now you know the experiment.
You can tell your side of the story.
Share what you know.
Share your experiences.

Share with the world what equality and social justice looks like and feels like...
wait, it just feels normal....
like how it's supposed to be.
Exactly, my friends.

Never tolerate segregation or separation.
You know the truth.

Together, we're better.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

My Hero

"Heroes don't look like they used to, they look like you."

One of my heroes is Sue Buckley.
You probably have never heard of her.
She's an older woman, slight in stature, well-spoken and honest.
Gut level, clear and sometimes brazen.
She's also British.  
So whatever she has to say, no matter how hard to swallow, feels like it has a spoonful of sugar to help it go down.

Her intelligence, her drive and her careful research
 have reformed education for people with disabilities across the UK.
Yes, folks, that entire country places their students with disabilities in regular ordinary classrooms first.
Support is given.  Intention and careful planning go into it. 
Students succeed.

If I had to distill Sue's message into a soundbite it would be this:
People with disabilities deserve an ordinary life.
Life with their family.  
Life with a significant other when they grow up.  
Life with a good education so that you can have the means to have an ordinary job.
A full, ordinary life.

That's all she wants --
and yet, it's revolutionary in so many places.

This week-end I had the privilege of hearing Sue speak
and advocate
and share her vision.

She was stern.
Indicting all parents who let their child with special needs have poor behavior.

She was funny.
Sharing stories and attempts at searching for this ordinary life for her own daughter.

She was incredibly articulate.
Reminding all of us of how important it is to strive for inclusion and why it matters.

She was bold.
Creating educational models that can be replicated easily and aren't costly, basing it all in research.


There, among the crowds of people yesterday, were new parents.  They were holding their tiny babies with Down Syndrome and being washed in acceptance.
It must have felt like a baptism for them.

There were educators who have dedicated their entire lives to the vision of full inclusion...renewing their vows, so to speak, redoubling their efforts, reaffirming just how important this work is.

There were parents who hold close Sue's vision too.
Clinging to her every word.
Spontaneously clapping.
Crying silent tears in agreement and urgency.

There is no time to waste.

And then there was my crew...
mothers of children with Down Syndrome who know in their souls and hearts that the efforts to fully include children with disabilities in Catholic schools is a sacred mission divinely guided.

We were from mostly California...
Napa, Davis, Manhattan Beach, Sacramento, Roseville, Costa Mesa.

But we had friends from Arizona.

And a mom from St. Louis, Missouri who out of desperation formed a Facebook group a year ago that has grown and ricocheted across all sorts of places and created a tidal wave of energy with it.
It was a shout into the void.
And people answered.

She jumped on a plane to be with her tribe and it was right.
Exactly right.

For both nights that we ate out as a group,
a child with Down Syndrome that was unknown to us came up to our group...
two different kids
hugging us,
reminding us, 
encouraging us in our mission.

My friend, Michelle, called it a "God-cident".

It was like a sprinkle of fairy dust.
Or the slightest whisper of love.
Or the sparkling rocks that guide your way on a dark path.
Any way you describe it, those children felt heaven-sent.

As I watched Sue, 
I thought of these mothers who have no formal program, 
who have nobody funding it, 
no real guidance -- except each other --
who only have the very same desire that Sue has...
a chance for an ordinary life for their child with Down Syndrome, 
learning alongside of his/her siblings, 
making Communion and Reconciliation and Confirmation in their faith community,
singing in the Christmas pageant, 
playing kickball and basketball
just like anybody else.

On my way down Jamboree Road in Newport Beach, a song came on the radio.

I was all alone when I heard these words:

To be humble, to be kind.
It is the giving of the peace in your mind.
To a stranger, To a friend
To give in such a way that it has no end.

We are Love.
We are One.
We are how we treat each other when the day is done.
We are Peace.
We are War.
We are how we treat each other and Nothing More.

Another whisper...another arrow pointing the way.

How we treat each other and nothing more.

Let us remember the heroes,
humble and kind,
who show us how to treat each other
and nothing more.

For us, those heroes have names:
Patrick, Chris, Gretchen, Thomas, CJ, Raymond, John Michael and Adam.
Mia, Savannah, KC and Roberta.

They want an ordinary life.
They are full of ordinary grace.

It is our job to make it happen.
Let's do it.

Our revolution is under way.
Join us.