When a terrible thing happens to another human being, and the community at large rallies around them and speaks up on their behalf, it warms the soul.
It happened just this week, when 21 year old James Milne was refused entry to a JB Hi-Fi store. The rationale given to James and his dad by the security guard was that James was banned for shoplifting.
The proof offered to James and his father was a photo of the shoplifter. James is half-Fijian with dark hair and the shoplifter in the photo was Caucasian with light hair.
Oh, and James and the shoplifter both have Down Syndrome.
When James’ dad pointed out the discrepancy between the features of James and the person in the photo, the staff at JB Hi-Fi allegedly said that ‘they all look the same’.
The manager refused to apologize even after further contact by the family, so James’ sister Victoria posted something on facebook about how upset she was. The community rallied and the facebook story was shared more than 65,000 times along with various commentary about how poor the behavior was of the staff from JB Hi-Fi and talking about boycotting the chain.
JB Hi-Fi have now apologized.
Decency wins the day.
All is good.
It is wonderful the way in which we leapt to the defense of a person who was being devalued because of a chromosomal difference.
I honour the way we acknowledged his humanity, the way we made a statement as society that he was welcome, the way that we communicated that he was valued and worthy of respect.
I can’t shake, however, the shadow of how differently we would have treated James if he was about to enter the world, rather than an electronics store.
Between the ages of 9 weeks and 13 weeks from conception, a test can be done to determine if a baby has Down Syndrome.
At 9 weeks, a baby’s heart has been beating for three weeks. At 13 weeks, a baby’s tiny fingertips have fingerprints, their veins and organs are clearly visible through their still-thin skin, and if you’re having a girl, she has more than 2 million eggs in her ovaries.
And out of every 10 of those babies whose hearts are beating, only 1 is welcomed into the world if they have Down Syndrome.
I look forward to the day when we acknowledge their humanity, when we make a statement as society that they are welcome, and when we communicate that they are valued and worthy of respect.
James Milne matters – as does every person, young and old.
I look forward to the day when the community at large rallies around expectant parents and provides support and encouragement, speaking up with grace on behalf of little lives with extra chromosomes.
That day will deeply warm the soul.