Letter to a Lebensunwertes Leben

By Diogenes (articles ) | Apr 12, 2005

Dear Miss Irishwoman,

I peeled your photo last week from a news source I've now forgotten; it was one of a series of images showing worldwide mourning for the Pope, and the caption indicated you were part of a memorial Mass in Dublin. Your picture stuck with me -- perhaps because of its contrast with the perfect hair and brilliant false smiles of the network media stars reporting on the funeral. It's obvious that you're afflicted by Down Syndrome. In a curiously final way, most of what I consider noblest about the just-ended pontificate finds expression in your pleasingly unpleasing face.

For starters, you exist. That itself is no small achievement. There are a lot of very rich, very powerful, very intelligent people who would turn you into surgical waste with no more thought than putting down a kitten. Your life, in their eyes, is a life not worthy of living. You will accomplish none of the things that they value. You will win no prizes for cello or dance. You will pay no taxes. No Jesuit university president will congratulate you for staging The Vagina Monologues and challenging patriarchy. You're a burden. That you're alive at all is due to the belief that you're more than a burden. Perhaps no man did more to diffuse that belief -- in increasingly hostile territory -- than the one you're praying for.

I see your mother has dressed you warmly and is tidying your hair. Small acts of kindness, but not the less telling for that. Had she freed herself from her burden, from you, she might be traveling or shopping or doing that art history course in Siena she always dreamed of taking. Instead, she brought you to church.

You have a rosary, I notice, as does your mother. Either she doesn't know, or doesn't care, that our theologically credentialed betters assure us this reflects a retrograde pre-Conciliar spirituality. Pope John Paul, as it happens, shared the same ignorance (or unconcern). Is your mother's stubbornness in regard to her piety unconnected with her perseverance in tending to you? I doubt it.

Do you understand much of the prayers you pray when your mother coaches you through your beads? It's not easy to say. I'd be slow to discount their value. An uncredentialed but otherwise well-informed source has taught us, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father." Will the Father in question turn a deaf ear to your prayers because they're mixed with your mother's prompting and gap-filling, or because you're fuzzy about the meaning of the Fifth Glorious Mystery? Possible, but I can't bring myself to believe it.

In fact, Miss Whoever You Are, I'd be inclined to think there's less pride, less self-pity, less cussedness in your "assisted" prayers than in those of us microsofters. So I'd ask you, in your innocence, to pray for us cynics, that our eyes be lifted above the spectacle of ecclesiastics placing the Body of Christ on the plump tongues of professional assassins, and that we might share, however sporadically, the vision that your eyes see, might speak the blessings that your lips speak.

Your fond uncle,


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  • Posted by: - Apr. 14, 2005 7:41 PM ET USA

    I realize “the world” may find her face “unpleasing,” but I am captivated by the peace and holy docility this young lady, like my little sister Mary, emanates. Their Down’s Syndrome is an affliction, and yet they personify an openness to God’s love and abandonment to His providence that truly humbles us “normal” people, who too often do not seek God first (cf. Mt. 6:33), but instead rely too much on our human powers in leading our lives, as Diogenes affirms well in his closing. Tom Nash

  • Posted by: - Apr. 13, 2005 2:09 PM ET USA

    You have my gratitude, D, bathed in tears.

  • Posted by: parochus - Apr. 13, 2005 3:28 AM ET USA

    You old softy. Bravo.

  • Posted by: Gertrude - Apr. 12, 2005 11:16 PM ET USA

    When we have become so used to our culture of death, it is a blessing to be able to cry for joy. May we never forget the little ones. Thank you Diogenes

  • Posted by: - Apr. 12, 2005 8:12 PM ET USA

    Thank you, Diogenes. For an essay that celebrates life in a culture of so much senseless, selfish deaths. She is truly one of the blessed little ones.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Apr. 12, 2005 7:11 PM ET USA

    May I be so presumptuous as to associate myself with Diogenes as a brother, which would make me another uncle to this young lady?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 12, 2005 5:09 PM ET USA

    I have a parishoner who has Down Syndrome. He is wonderful. He sits up front, knows the entire Mass by heart, prays the rosary, listens to my homilies, and he sings everything. Thank you Diogenes for this post. I also notice that there are very few children with Down Syndrome and I know doctors encourage women with a "risky" child to abort. I hope that someday this will all end. No more abortions. May we rebuild a Culture of Life.

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Apr. 12, 2005 4:49 PM ET USA

    Thank you, Diogenes. Thank you. Great essay. God has blessed you with many talents, including the gift of writing so well in catechesis for His Church. Could/might we send this to every bishop in the USA? May I re-print this in my parish bulletin?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 12, 2005 3:45 PM ET USA

    A truly inspiring piece Diogenes; thank you.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 12, 2005 1:55 PM ET USA

    AMEN. That is one of the most beautiful things I've read in a long time. I pray that I will enjoy a fraction of the Heavenly rewards that she will probably receive!

  • Posted by: Meg Q - Apr. 12, 2005 12:26 PM ET USA

    A wonderful post, Diogenes. I just married into a huge Scots-Polish family (15 siblings), and the 2nd-youngest, who is my age (33), has Downs. She's very high-functioning, lives in a group home, takes the bus alone, acts in a theatre program, but there's still a limit there. But while having a Downs face, she's more beautiful than any movie star or model. The sad thing is you see fewer Downs children and young adults around today. Talk about throwing away blessings.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 12, 2005 8:13 AM ET USA

    This photo and accompanying article are one of the most profoundly touching and beautiful posts that I have seen in a long time. At my local parish, we are graced almost each Sunday by servers at mass who have Downs Syndrome. These young people bring us together in the Eucharist by their presence. Our world is graced by the most vulnerable and weakest human members, a fact denied by the crass materialism of abortion.

  • Posted by: MM - Apr. 12, 2005 7:49 AM ET USA

    a very moving piece, diogenes - bravo. and God bless the mother and daughter in the picture.