This I Believe

Robert - Springfield, Missouri
Entered on October 22, 2007

This I believe: mentally retarded people can teach normal people how to lead more productive lives.

For a Cub Scout project my 8 year-old Down Syndrome son, Brian, wanted to earn a merit badge by learning to tie his own shoes and was given a week to accomplish this goal. Our whole family participated, working tirelessly to teach him the knotty art of “tie-man-ship.” Strangers found Brian squatting at knee level studying their shoes. While watching TV he honed in on rare feet scenes, squinting for hints. Days passed and he could not seem to master it. We started to worry that he might miss the deadline. He became somber and moody. The cats avoided him.

Frustrated, he cried because he couldn’t master it. We cried with him. The day came for the scout meeting and he still sat in the same spot with a furrowed brow, fussing over the complexity of it all. We fretted over our lack of ability to teach such a simple task and spoke quietly about not taking him to the den meeting that night, to spare him, and ourselves, embarrassment.

I nearly opened my mouth to tell him that it wasn’t important for him to tie his shoes and fully intended to let him off the hook but, before I did that, his sister spoke and suggested a new idea.

“Brian,” she softly asked, “why don’t you try closing your eyes? Loop your laces over one another and see if you can tie your shoe in your imagination. That way, if you get up to go someplace early, before the sun comes up, you can tie your shoes in the dark.”

It worked. Brian sat, with eyes tightly shut, and tied a perfect knot on his right shoe. Without looking up, he crossed laces on his left shoe and tied another perfect knot. Sometimes, waiting for things makes them even better.

His mother quickly dressed him in uniform and we raced to his scout meeting.

Brian went first. A dozen other scouts, all mentally retarded, and their families sat quietly, almost reverently, and watched in awe as 8 year-old Cub Scout Brian Lewis May, eyes closed and tongue out, earned a badge that may well have been the Congressional Medal of Honor and an Olympic Gold Medal rolled into one. Congratulatory hugs commenced and tears of joy fell.

Brian did the best he could with what he had. He won more than a merit badge; he turned something ordinary, small and simple into a significant event, a milestone act of greatness. Brian still ties his shoes with his eyes closed, the way his big sister suggested so many years ago. Later, Brian taught his little sister to tie her shoes, and she can tie her shoes in the dark just like him

One day, I made the conscious decision to look at and live life the way Brian does; to do the best I can with what I’ve got. In lieu of hurtling down the same path with most of humanity, I elected to lace up my shoes in the dark and follow the rutted, winding path of a simple, loving child whose road is, truly, a road less traveled.