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When a Stranger Said It Was 'Sad' That My Brother Has Down Syndrome

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I was recently at a craft fair where I had a booth and was spreading the word about a clothing line I am getting off the ground. There were all kinds of creative trinkets for sale, face-painting for the kids, a few rides and games; you name it. The smell of mini donuts, popcorn and other carnival food would occasionally waft through the air, wrestling with my will power.

Hundreds of people were strolling down the lines of tents and tables temporarily set up along the sidewalk throughout our local park. Most people walked by with little more than a passing glance, but occasionally someone would be drawn in and stop by.

My apparel company has a logo that is obvious and sticks out to a lucky few. For others, it takes a few moments to comprehend. But I swear it goes completely over the head of most people. Regardless, for anyone courageous enough to step up and approach my booth, I’m always elated to share my story and explain what we’ve set out to do.

After a stranger came to our table and started perusing through our T-shirts, I shared with her the motivation and inspiration behind our apparel line. I explained that our logo resembled an X chromosome, because “Xtra Apparel” has a mission to create lightweight and comfortable clothing that properly fits and benefits people with Down syndrome.

Next I showed her a picture of my brother and I. I told her that he was born with Down syndrome, and that’s when it happened. She said, “Oh, that’s so sad.”

I paused from my spiel. I was shocked, honestly. I’ve likely gone through my pitch a hundred times, and never has someone had the nerve to utter those words to me. This was only the second event where I had been a vendor, so I wasn’t prepared to handle that comment. I didn’t know how to respond. I simply took a moment, gathered myself, and continued with what was left of our mission statement. Shortly thereafter she smiled and went on her way.

It would’ve been different had she said, “Oh, that’s so sad.” after I explained it being next to impossible for my brother to find pants that fit properly at a department store, or when I mentioned that the typical person is 6 to 7 inches taller than the average individual with Down syndrome, and how that makes it difficult for most people with Down syndrome to find jeans or pants that are the correct measurements.

I would have been fine with the “Oh, that’s so sad” response had it immediately followed me explaining that my mom hems all of his pants so they’re the right length. But that’s not what took place; it was before that. It was immediately after me saying, “My brother was born with Down syndrome.”

I’m upset at myself for not addressing her right then and there, but in all actuality, I’m just happy that I kept my cool.

I wish I could go back to politely tell her it’s actually quite the opposite. I’m not sad about my brother being born with Down syndrome. My brother is awesome. He’s fun to hang out with and be around. He has an infectious laugh that sounds like Roscoe P. Coltrane, which he picked up after watching every episode of the “Dukes of Hazzard” ever made, countless times.

He loves to laugh and have a good time. He is a big WWE fan and loves most professional sports. He has a tendency to jump on the bandwagon of whichever professional team is doing well and then claim to be a long-time fan of theirs, but I digress. I enjoy occasionally giving him a good ribbing, and he is quick to give it right back.

He has a part-time job at a local restaurant, and still helps out our varsity football team as a coach/manager. By and large, he has been healthy throughout his 30+ years, and lived a full life with numerous accomplishments and milestones. He is loved by many.

I am happy to have gotten to know him and to call him my brother. It has been both enlightening and inspiring. I believe I am a better person because of the fact that he’s my brother. The fact that he happens to have Down syndrome is far from sad.

What is sad is that someone would still immediately jump to such an ignorant conclusion, or have the nerve to say that. It bothers me that such a train of thought even exists today.

If you haven’t gotten to know anyone with Down syndrome well enough to understand that it’s not sad to be born with Down syndrome, that is what’s truly sad.

If I could take back that moment and be there again with this lady, that would be my one rebuttal, my lone suggestion. Please take the time to get to know someone with Down syndrome. Treat them like you would anyone else. Ask them questions and truly show an interest in them. Come to see that person for who they are and you’ll eventually learn that being born with Down syndrome is anything but sad.

Originally published: October 8, 2019
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