A beautiful thing happened this week. About 15 staff and former staff members at the Cary YMCA celebrated Theara’s 30th birthday. I can’t remember when I felt any prouder of the place where I work. I can’t remember when I felt more full as a person.
When I first arrived at the Cary YMCA, one of the branches of the YMCA of the Triangle, Theara was about 9 years old. I was put in charge of the youth department, overseeing several after-school and day camp programs. She was one of our kids.
In many ways Theara was like all of the other kids. She was excited, happy, funny and glad to be alive. She built a connection with every person she came in contact with. Some days she might get frustrated with someone, but her anger didn’t last long. She primarily brought joy to all she came in contact with.
There were also ways that she was different. Sometimes she moved slowly. We’d walk a group of kids to the park about a half mile from the building. Theara would get tired. When she did, she would stop, refusing to complete the journey. At those times, she couldn’t be moved. We discovered the best plan of attack was to simply rest with her.
Oh, and one more way Theara is different. She has Downs Syndrome.
There are a lot of people who don’t conform to the norms of the world. Sometimes they intentionally choose to be different. Sometimes it just happens.
The beautiful thing about life is that sometimes those who look at the world through a different lens, from a different perspective, make others laugh, love and grow the most.
As I moved up the corporate ladder, eventually becoming the director of the Cary Y, Theara would often drop by our office suite after her high school bus dropped her off in our parking lot. She would fill us in on her day, share a little sunshine, and then she would line the only three men in the office up. And each afternoon she visited, she would announce that one of us had won the “It’s Your Lucky Day to be Handsome Award.” I often dressed up in suit and tie, and I’m proud to say that I took first place in this afternoon ritual more than not. And I would boast to colleagues the entire next day about my recognition.
As we celebrated Theara’s life this week, I felt genuinely happy. The memories were sweet, her smile still infectious. On my way home Tuesday afternoon, I thought to myself, I hope my girls will bring as much joy to others as Theara has brought to me.
If they do, they will be lives well lived.
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