Tom wrote about our first Buddy Walk in his book, One Good Horse (Scribner, 2006):
The sign-up table is beneath a shelter in the picnic area. We get five blue-and-yellow T-shirts, two adult sizes and three children’s. Three balloons, two blues and a yellow. I disentangle the double stroller from the car while Jennifer puts the shirts over the boys’ coats. First Bennett, then Avery into the stroller. They’ve been awakened from their naps and they are cranky. Jennifer pushes the stroller back and forth, back and forth, trying to soothe the babies. I’m doubtful about this whole day, but Jennifer said, “Just try it. We don’t have to stay if we don’t like it,” so here we are.
There are one hundred and fifty Buddy Walks nation-wide, held in an attempt to promote Down syndrome research, eduation, and awareness. The walk in Missoula was started by the McGowan family and their friends in honor of Danny, their two-year-old son with Down syndrome who died in a drowning accident. Before the walk begins, a kilted bagpipe player drones out the melody to “Danny Boy,” and as the children pass him, they release their balloons. Carter and I watch his until it is just a blue dot in the gray sky and then it is gone altogether. At least we still have Avery to hold and to love. Putting on the Buddy Walk T-shirt, I become one of the team, something I never thought I’d be. I’m not a joiner. But I pull the shirt over my hooded sweatshirt and become part of the event.
Three University of Montana football players carry a Buddy Walk banner and participatns line out behind them. Almost immediately, the drizzle turns to rain. The walk is a mile around the park. We follow a course marked by yellow and blue balloons. The park is crowded with families, for the football games, for the walk. We all get wet together, all of us blessed by the cold rain.
I almost didn’t come because I couldn’t imagine it as anything other than a parade of hopelessness, me not being able to look people in the eye, wishing I wasn’t there. But in the end, it is hard to tell the people who have Down syndrome from their parents, their friends, the other people at the park. The people with Down syndrome look like their families more than they look like one another, everyone wearing the T-shirts, wet faces bleeding into one another, blending together, in a parade where everybody is a hero. I’m glad we came.
The Buddy Walk this year is September 15, at 11:00 a.m. at Playfair Park in Missoula. We’ll be there, and if you can make it, come over and say hello!