I did a speaking engagement a short time ago. A few in the audience had heard me speak before. At then end when I asked for questions, one guest said, “Tell them the story of George.” And I smiled.
Depending on the audience I change my speeches a little, but I have some standard opening and closings. For many years, I always closed my speeches with the story of George. As we have grown and added more life experiences, my closings have changed so now it is not always the story of George. Maybe it should be? Maybe I should always close with the story of George? Read along and let me know what you think.
The Power of Inclusion: George (originally published 2011)
You may want to know just “Who is George?” George is one of Rachel’s longest tenured friends, and George is mentioned in almost all of my presentations about Down syndrome. George and Rachel had the good fortune of landing in Mrs. Brewer’s kindergarten class. When I inquired about positive peer models, George’s name was the first one out of Mrs. Brewer’s mouth. “He just seems to have a knack for helping Rachel when she needs help and just being her friend.” George’s mom signed the family up to come to the Buddy Walk that kindergarten year. None of us knew it would lead to a lifelong friendship. Here’s their picture from the walk and it was one of the photos used in NDSS Times Square Video promoting Down Syndrome Awareness the following year.
From there, Rachel and George just built a precious friendship. Our families became friends. George was included in some of our outings, most notably attending Memphis Red Birds games with us. From time to time, we had the opportunity to sit in one of the boxes. George and Rachel loved this. They loved the food- especially the ice cream in the plastic baseball caps. George’s mom always wanted him to bring money and take Rachel on some of the rides and play some of the games. Rachel was always proud because she encouraged George on some of the rides that made him a little nervous.
Each year Mrs. Brewer’s class had a Christmas play. George was Santa Claus and Rachel an elf. She still talks about George in his Santa role and she still imitates his “ho, ho, ho!”
In 1st grade I came and did my little song and dance on the Buddy Walk and a peer presentation on Down syndrome. The teacher asked the children “How can you be a good friend to Rachel? “George’s hand was first up and he said, “When the kids on the playground don’t understand what she is saying, we can help them to know what she is saying.” There are many George and Rachel moments. George was always on Rachel’s walk team with his family beside him every year. George’s family moved to Florida and we are many states apart, but his mom still donates to Rachel’s team. That’s’ the kind of folks they are.
But there is one story that summarizes George and Rachel best. When we learned we would be moving to Kansas, it was just before school would start. It all happened quite fast. We had a going away party and then we did some individual outings with some of Rachel’s closer friends. And of course, we had to go to a Red Birds game with George. This was only a few nights before our departure. When we got back to George’s house, he told Rachel good-bye and they exchanged cards, gifts and hugs. We gave George and Rachel’s friend Sarah K. both copies of Max Lucado’s “You Are Special” book. As I often do, I wrote them notes in their books about how special each of them is and what I saw in them that God wanted to use for the rest of their lives. I thanked them for being such wonderful friends to Rachel. I told them that I hoped they kept these books forever and that I hoped we could keep in touch from several states away.
Then it was time, and I walked George into his house to say good-bye to his family. As I turned to tell him good-bye and hug him, he threw his arms around me and cried, “You take care of Rachel because I won’t be there to take care of her.” Tears streamed down my face. I mumbled thank you and hugged him tightly. I don’t know if George remembers it, but it was one of those “aha” moments in my life.
In Rachel, George sees his friend. He doesn’t see Down syndrome. He sees his responsibility to help if needed or wanted. He sees someone who is capable. George was one of the smartest kids in the class. He never babied Rachel. He just friended her before Facebook thought of it. He respected her and gave her dignity in the way he treated her.
I do expect George will be CEO of a company someday. And you know what? He will hire someone with Down syndrome. Why? Because George gets what many people never get. He sees Rachel for who she is and for her abilities. The power of inclusion is that inclusion does just as much or more for those without diagnosed disabilities than it does for those with disabilities. I bet George would tell you that, too.
The world needs more George’s.