Still Life

Waiting for the carpet cleaners to arrive, I was shuffling through boxes of photos and albums in our home office in Benedict House.

Naturally, I got distracted and soon was flipping through mementos of our former lives.

Dang! We were a pretty darned good-looking pair back in the day, despite eyeglasses the size of pie pans and clothing styles just recovering from the 70s.

Still, as Kelly always asks when she sees pictures of the younger me, “What happened?”

Well, life is what happened. We are old now, and—to quote the poet—covered with our lives.

But appearances are deceiving, as we know. We didn’t feel especially beautiful or handsome when those pictures were snapped, and we don’t feel especially old now that we are.

The reality of any stage of life is what’s going on inside, not what the camera catches. Shortly after those pictures were taken, Kelly was born and we learned that lesson big time.

Right after getting home from the hospital, our new friends Don and Jo Rettberg, parents of an eight-year-old boy with Down syndrome, advised us not to check out books on the subject from the library.

“They’re all depressing, and most of what they say isn’t even true,” said Jo.

But of course we checked the books out anyway, including one on “mental defects” that featured a young woman with Down syndrome, stripped naked, standing bewildered and alone under the harsh flash of the camera, glancing sideways down at the floor.

Welcome to the world, baby girl.

It could be that Down Home Ranch was conceived the moment we opened that book to that dreadful page.

Because Jerry and I had learned in the three short days of our baby’s new life that a diagnosis does not and never will describe a human being, and that the love burning in our hearts would be the true measure of Kelly’s life, and of ours.

That one photo kindled in us the fierce resolve to go anywhere and do anything to protect our girl and give her the life and the dignity she deserved.

And the young woman in the photo?

She has almost certainly passed on by now, but my heart still grieves for her.

How I wish I could let her know that we remember her, that we know how much more there was to her and to her life than that wretched photo, and how much she came to mean to us.

And that in part because of her, we built a place of beauty, and love, and dignity for those who followed.