May 14, 2012

Do you remember your first playmate/friend? Not a family member, but someone unrelated to you? I was probably 4 years old and my first friend was David. He was my neighbor. Even though we lived beside each other, our houses were not close by today’s suburban standards. Our yards touched one another but David’s home was probably 150-200 yards from mine. I can’t say for sure but I think he was a year older than me.

I don’t remember all the things we did together but I surely recall playing with trucks and cars in the dirt. Yep, I remember a lot of dirt… on the ground, on the cars, on my clothes, on my face, in my ears, in my hair… 4 year old boys seem to attract dirt. David didn’t speak very well… actually he grunted more than spoke. But 4 year old boys don’t have conversations per say so I don’t remember that it mattered much. Mostly we made a lot of car and truck sounds.

I don’t know how long we were friends but I don’t think it was more than a year. Even though our yards touched as I mentioned, he lived in the next school district. Not that it mattered to us, since we weren’t in school but our older siblings didn’t have any connection to one another and our families’ only contact was in church. And since my family had minimal church exposure by the time I came along, we didn’t really see his family much. So David and I just drifted apart. I’m sure it was also because I befriended my best boyhood friend, Tommy, at the age of 5 or so. He lived on the other side of me. There was no intentionality on my part about not being friends with David any longer, these things just happen when you are young.

I rarely saw David after those early years… even in church. I didn’t see him playing outside, nor did I see him with his older brothers hitting baseballs toward my house. I don’t know when but a few years after our friendship waned I learned that David had or was “Down Syndrome.” We didn’t call it that back then… we used the words “mongoloid” (terribly inappropriate these days), or “retarded.” That meant nothing to me as a 4 year old… he was just my friend. I guess looking back what really happened was he never really got much farther than 5 or 6 years of age and I moved along.

You may know this already, but there are fewer and fewer cases of children born with Down Syndrome. Know why? Because of the ability to diagnose it in utero, those children are now aborted. Hurray for science!!! (NOT!)

I don’t know if David was institutionalized. It was often the recommended course of action for parents back then. Maybe that’s why I rarely saw him. I did learn years later that he was living in a group home with other adults with similar disabilities. I would see his parents on occasion at Presbytery meetings. They were marvelous Christian people. I always asked about David.

I was saddened when I got the phone call 7 or 8 years ago that David had died. The pastor of their church who knew that I was familiar with the family called me. Down Syndrome folks have a shorter life span than those of us with one less chromosome. They often suffer from heart problems and chronic infections.

I am inclined to write some really sentimental stuff about heaven and Down Syndrome folks or children but I don’t think it would be accurate. You know that whole “the reason dad died was because God needed a carpenter in heaven…” sort of thing. Suffice it to say that children, no matter how old they are, seem to have a special place in Jesus’ heart. And if they are special to Jesus they ought to be special to us as well. Remember that the next time one of them annoys you.

Matthew 19: 13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

I don’t doubt that my old playmate David is in the kingdom of heaven.


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