Two years ago


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!

13 thoughts on “Two years ago

  1. I remember reading that passage in the book and it brought me back to our first Buddy Walk. We went when Kayla wasn’t quite even 3 months old yet. I debated back and forth whether to jump right in to this “down syndrome thing” full force ahead, or take our time and back off. I just wasn’t sure if I was ready for something like that. Obviously in the end we decided to go and it was the first one that town had held…it wasn’t too bad and it was nice seeing other families. Have fun at the BW, ours is in Oct.

  2. Thank you for all the wonderful comments! It seemed like the right time to break out a photo of my boys…

    And Niksmom, thank you so much for your offer of support, it means so much to me. Our Buddy Walk has corporate sponsors, and we all just walk to be together. There’s no other reason (though some Buddy Walks do things differently, I think.)

    So thank you, and you will definitely be there in spirit!

  3. Wow. Sniffle. Um, is this a fund raiser of any sort or is it “just because?” If it’s a fund raiser, Nik would like to make a contribution…please tell me how? If it weren’t for this crazy thing called geography, you bet we’d be there!

  4. Yes. And sorry about the face…but yes. I tell Tom all the time that one of my best qualities is that when I take out my contacts, everything is squinty. We all look the same. Maybe everyone needs astigmatism?

  5. Oh geez. That made me cry and our dinner party invitees are due any moment.

    Must go fix my face.

    But thank you for that. Wouldn’t a world where it didn’t matter if you had Down syndrome or not be a beautiful place to live in?

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