March 3 is End the R-Word Day.
My Uncle Bob was born with Down's Syndrome. He was the youngest of 6 kids. He thought my dad was the most wonderful man in the world. He was the one person who was ALWAYS happy to see me. He loved music and would listen to country music on his transistor radio for hours, beating time with a Tinker Toy stick on the bottom of an old tennis shoe. Uncle Bob called my middle sister "Queenie". No one knows why. His favorite song was "Happy Birthday" - he loved birthdays, whether they were his own or someone else's. He liked everyone he ever met; he never knew a stranger. People always liked him right back even though he was "weird". He loved professional wrestling and talked about those guys as if he knew them. He loved to sing and dance, and did both badly and with abandon. When he was older, he got a job stuffing frozen entrees into cardboard boxes. He loved it and was so proud to be making his own money.
Uncle Bob lived well into his 50s. When he was born, doctors told my grandparents that he wouldn't see 30. They also said that my grandparents should put him in an institution and forget about him. My grandparents refused - and improved the lives of at least their five other children, 18 grandchildren, and themselves. But I know it didn't end with us.
Uncle Bob had a profound influence on who I am. I am sure that I have no idea of the myriad ways that having him in my world - and being a beloved part of his - affects me to this day. I see him in the face of every disabled person I meet, no matter what their disability or their attitude. I know I have more compassion and understanding than I would have without Uncle Bob.
Thank you for being you, Uncle Bob. I love you.