When I was growing up my parents were good friends with a family that had two daughters. Both were several years older than my sister and I so we had little in common from a ‘play’ perspective, at least as far as the elder sister was concerned. The younger of the two, Ruta, was older than me in years but because she had Downs Syndrome her mind was very much in tune to mine. In my own childish little world I saw nothing wrong with this child/woman. She wanted to play dolls with me, she thought like I did, and she was fun. That’s all an innocent kid wants.
As I aged I obviously came to see the situation more clearly and eventually when we’d visit the play would stop, not by Ruta’s choice. I simply outgrew ‘play’. Ruta however, did not, and never would. When we arrived she’d greet us at the door with the same childish enthusiasm, eager to bring me to her room full of toys but I no longer had interest in playing with dolls. I was kind and patient; she was a sweet gentle soul, but I somehow didn’t fit in to her world anymore.
The visits eventually stopped; I married and moved on in life and I never saw Ruta again. I heard recently that she passed away in her early fifties some years ago. After her mother passed, her older sister took her in and cared for her lovingly. She’d had a good life. Maybe even better than I could’ve imagined.
Ruta’s condition reminded me of others in my life whose minds were somewhat addled, not by the same illness, but the end result was the same. I’ve written at length about my own mothers’ battle with Dementia. Her brain has been so ravaged by the disease, reducing her to a simple minded and fragile being. She is not unlike the child Ruta was all of her life. The only difference is that I remember my mother when she was lucid and of sound adult mind. I suppose that’s what makes dealing with her illness so difficult – it has changed her so much, but only we are aware of that. That’s the beauty of her addled mind – she is completely unaware of all she has lost. She too, plays with dolls, giggles like a toddler with her friends, and gazes with childlike wonder at a bird outside her window. As painful as it is too see, you have to acknowledge that she is not suffering at all. For that matter neither did Ruta. My mother lived a full and accomplished life. That her later years have to be spent in a childs fantasy world is a problem for me, not her. She could be in pain, but she’s not. In fact, physically she’s in excellent health.
I’ve little knowledge of Downs Syndrome and I know it is only one of many brain related illnesses but in my experience it is not debilitating, at least not like tumors or neurological disorders. The children born with Downs can go on to live relatively normal lives within their scope of abilities, and they can live functioning lives. They have ‘jobs’, belong to groups and communities, and they can be happy with their lives. There is a blissful innocence in their world that, on one hand, makes you grateful for their addled state, and on the other almost makes you envious. They are happy because they don’t know anger, or violence, or poverty, or corruption, or stress, or worry.
I spent many years feeling sorry for those who suffer some form of brain deficiency because I didn’t see things from their perspective. Maybe an addled state of mind isn’t so horrible – they certainly don’t seem to think so. They’re happy in their own little world. They appreciate everything and everyone. They don’t judge, they simply accept, and they love unconditionally. Maybe there’s a message here for the rest of us. Life in whatever form it comes to us is precious and any perceived limitations can be overcome with a change of perspective.