Your Humanness is Showing

This week’s story is from Joe Landfair, one of my dad’s buddies. From the moment Joe met Aaron, he treated him as the human being he is and with the utmost respect. He recognized Aaron’s humanness over any other label placed upon him. He placed Aaron’s humanness at the forefront of their relationship. Therefore, he is a rockstar in my eyes – we need more people like this!

I emailed Joe inquiring about his interest in sharing about seeing the similarities over the differences. Within 24 hours he responded with a heartfelt story that brought tears to my eyes. Tears of joy, because his memory embodies what we all can only hope for – our humanness recognized.

It is a great pleasure to introduce, Joe.

“I think the thing I would say I’ve seen from Aaron is how much he enjoys just being part of the group.  Whether we’re playing a game or just hanging out, I perceived a desire in Aaron to be around others, interact and feel loved.  I remember playing bocci ball in your front yard with Aaron and some people from work.  Aaron was doing really well, he has great hand eye coordination.  I could also see he was really competitive.  As he had success in the game, we cheered him on and congratulated him on his good play.  I sensed in him, a true satisfaction from this and a sense of pride.  He enjoyed being part of the group,  competing in the game and doing it well.

I think, we all as human beings, want to accomplish things and be recognized for that.  In that way, Aaron is no different from anyone.  We all want to feel included, to belong and have that sense of self-worth.  I felt Aaron really enjoyed those moments and it was great to see him smile.  He reminded me that regardless of the various gifts and abilities we each have, we are all human beings with common wants and needs.  From this, I think Aaron taught me to be a little more sensitive to those needs in others whether different or similar.  I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to know Aaron”.

Thank you Joe for your willingness to share such a beautiful memory. I certainly agree with you, Aaron has taught me the exact same thing. Thank you for so graciously reminding us of that. Thank you for reminding us when our humanness shows it’s just our desire to belong, to feel included.

If you or someone you know has a story they would like to share about an experience seeing the similarities over the differences please contact me at theheartability@gmail.com

Seeing the similarities over the differences is the heart’s greatest ability.

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Thanksgiving

GRATITUDE.

A feeling so many of us become overfilled with on this special Thanksgiving Day. Gratitude is not just the word we see thrown all over social media, it is the feeling we experience when we’re connected with love.

Today and everyday is Thanksgiving in Aaron’s heart. He does not necessarily express it with words and catchy phrases, he lives in it with every fiber of his beautiful being.

As long as I have known Aaron (my whole life) he has been an extremely picky eater. He sticks to what he likes and that is a cheeseburger (well done with ketchup only) and fries. So, needless to say, he does not indulge in mom’s extraordinary feast every year on the 4th Thursday of November.

However, to feel “a part of”, he will eat a minuscule piece of turkey doused in ketchup. The piece is more often than not the size of his pinky finger nail. He definitely does this with much hesitation while we all sit at the table chanting “Aaron versus food.” He smiles with excitement let’s out his famous “mang” and throws his arms up in celebration (often while pretending to gag).

While his commitment to feeling a part of is ever so inspiring, I am amazed by his ability to be thankful not only on this day but everyday.

He recognizes on a daily basis all that is to be thankful for in his world. His gratitude is not found through material objects he has acquired, rather it is found in the connection he finds in his relationships. For example, his family, during the holiday season he avoids judgment and criticism by embracing love and acceptance.

A family tradition in our household is to go around the table and share what brings us gratitude. Every single year Aaron says the same thing, “the whole entire 6 of us.” Not the food on the table, the new iPad case, nor the new shampoo he was told not to get. He focuses on his family and friends who are near and far. He expresses interest in what others are doing, simply because he cares. He is not asking to make conversation, however he is asking because he genuinely cares to know if everyone is feeling as much love as he is in that moment. The appreciation for those relationships is infectious and certainly has a ripple effect on the rest of us.

Happy Thanksgiving from me to you!

May your bellies be as full of gratitude as they are good food.

Seeing the similarities over the differences is the heart’s greatest ability.

If you or someone you know would like to share about your experience seeing the similarities over the differences please contact me at theheartability@gmail.com.

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From us, to you.

TODAY IS AARON’S BIRTHDAY!

Rather than attempt to narrow down a single ability he has taught the world over his lifetime, I have asked the people who know him best to contribute to a special birthday post.

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, how do you measure the emotions behind this picture?

The picture above has always been one of our family’s favorites. Is it humanly possible to look at this picture and not smile? Almost impossible not to catch the infectious joy this picture radiates… I mean seriously look at that precious little smile alongside those eyes full of hope.

Today, Aaron turns 33. This picture always seems to surface every year on October 17. It was taken on his first birthday, October 17, 1985. This year I asked my parents to reflect on what they learned during Aaron’s first year of life and my siblings what they learned over their lifetime. I gave them all about a week to ponder this broad and tough question before I bombarded them over fajitas with, “so…. what’d ya learn?” The response was unanimous.

My mom and dad stated so matter of fact, “celebrate things as they happen and don’t create expectations that are unrealistic.”

How is this related to the above picture? Spoiler, my mom and dad had to place a brick behind Aaron in order for him to sit upright in the picture. Unlike his peers, he was not able to do so on his own. However, they were not going to miss the opportunity to provide the little guy with the opportunity to celebrate all that makes him Aaron. They learned in that first year that life would not always provide Aaron with a brick to prop him up and that is A-OKAY! It was time to begin celebrating all that makes him unique, all that makes him sparkle, and all that makes him able to change the lives of every soul he encounters.

My dad stressed the importance of celebrating all of the victories, big and small “…every milestone was special regardless of what and when it was.” Removing the unrealistic expectations allowed them not to miss the opportunity to witness the beauty that is his life.

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Now let’s bring on the siblings…

First up, the first of us to meet Aaron… Matt!

“… I always remember coming home from college and Aaron being at the airport always so excited to see me and have ‘the whole 6 of us’ together and that it has really made me appreciate how much we love our family and close friends…how we all accept each other and are happy to be in each other’s company…specifically, the first Labor Day I ever came home from college. He was so excited and I was so excited to see him. But then it became every time I came home”

…Amen Mattie, Amen.

Next up, the baby of the family, Mary Kate. The 14 lessons she has learned from Aaron are worth taking note of, that is a promise.

  • always laughs no matter what the situation is
  • ask mindless questions when you feel like in you’re in an uncomfortable situation
  • always do what you want to do
  • the little things in life are what matter… such as going for a car ride around the block listening to Home Alone and getting a coke
  • screaming at the top of our lungs to Free Fallin by Tom Petty can instantly put you in a good mood
  • making funny and weird gestures to each other in public
  • not caring what anyone thinks of you
  • living every moment to the fullest
  • having the worst day ever and a target trip turns the day around
  • shaking your butt in public is always acceptable
  • always answer a FaceTime call from him because you’re guaranteed to smile
  • never make a promise you can’t keep/be held accountable
  • never turn down a late night cruise
  • always say yes to a sleepover even if that means sharing a bed with Aaron and 2 dogs

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Next, my mom’s take on Aaron’s emotional response to “Happy Birthday.”

Happy Birthday to You!
Happy Birthday to You!
Happy Birthday Dearest Aaron!
Happy Birthday to You!

Aaron is so moved by the song “happy birthday.” His eyes well up with tears and he grabs his heart ever so intently. Mom believes this is due the humility Aaron practices in his day to day life. She said, “…the man does not lack self-esteem, that is for sure, but he does not necessarily see how extremely special or his direct impact on the world around him.” She believes that on October 17, specifically in that moment when we all sing to him, he feels it and he feels it deeply.

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Lastly, let’s wrap this up with an open letter from me to dude.

Dear Aaron,

Although I have only known you for 26 years of your life, it feels like I have known you an eternity. God had BIG plans when he placed you on this earth 33 years ago. You light up every room you walk in, not in the cliche way. In the way that truly no words can describe. Being your little sister is my greatest privilege. I cannot begin to comprehend a life that did not include you. Your kindness is something few words can describe, it is limitless and it is available to all. You have taught me that it is our differences that make us unique. It is by truly embracing everyone and everything that we live and grow. Your kindness is something few words can describe, it is limitless and it is available to all. It blows my mind that you believe whole heartedly your entire family has Down Syndrome. You choose not to see the label of Down Syndrome that was placed upon you 33 years ago as a disability. You embrace all of the infinite abilities jam-packed into that extra chromosome. It is ever so clear that you see it as a uniting factor that has the ability to change this world… and I am with you buddy! Our family would never have been the same without you. This world would never have been the same without you. You are a gift beyond measure. Through you I see Love has no expiration tag, no judgement, you have taught me that love is the purest form of joy. I thank you, from the most sincere part of my heart for continually challenging my limiting beliefs, because of you my world is much greater. Because of you my heart knows love unlike any other.

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Love, Andie

If you made it to this point… thank you! Thank you for joining us on this journey of reflection on why our lives are infinitely better because of October 17, 1984.

Aaron, We Love You.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY AARON!!!

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It’s Ok Not To Be Ok!

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“People with Down Syndrome are Always Happy”.

Wouldn’t that be wild if that were the case? Individuals with Down Syndrome are not always happy. (insert gasp) really?? Try to take a guess as to why this is not true, go ahead I dare ya. This week’s ability is the ability to not be okay.

Why aren’t people with Down Syndrome always happy? Because… they are HUMAN! That’s right, you heard me. They are human beings, just like you. Don’t get me wrong, Aaron is fairly happy 99.9% of the time, however there are moments where his humanness rears its gorgeous head. I think this is a pressure so many of us face, or at least I do. This pressure to always be “great!” can be quite exhausting. I don’t necessarily believe this is a pressure from the outside world, rather it is a pressure that comes from within. If we are honest, how will people react? Will they still be our friends? Will they still pick up our calls? Vulnerability is one of the scariest mountains to climb however the reward is something few words can describe. Through vulnerability comes connection. When we can share that what is most “shameful” or “embarrassing” we provide others the opportunity to recognize they are not tackling this life alone.

The reality is, everything is not “okay” all of the time 24 hours 7 days a week. If everything was okay all of the time, we would be robots… and even robots malfunction. There is a beauty few words can describe when Aaron faces a mountain that seems to steep and overcomes through willingness to be vulnerable about the climb.

Recently, Aaron was experiencing severe pain. A pain that was challenging for him to find the words to articulate the discomfort. He voiced frustration, disappointment and straight up anger… and it was absolutely breath taking. Please don’t get me wrong, I would never in a million years wish to see him in pain. However, seeing his ability to scream it out and express the most raw of feelings was extraordinary. It reminded me that sometimes life throws us hard balls (insert a lets make lemonade out of lemons quote) but really, life can be tough but that does not mean we have to be the world’s toughest warrior. Strength comes when we can admit feelings of defeat and open our hearts to the possibility of help through vulnerability and connection.

Sure, most of the time you see someone with Down Syndrome they may be happy. However, I believe this is due to the deeply embedded ability to make everyone’s life better by simply being in it… that will have to be another post. Until then, get out there and see the similarities over the disabilities.

Seeing the similarities over the differences is the heart’s greatest ability.

If you or someone you know has a story they would like to share about their experiences, please contact theheartability@gmail.com

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Don’t Should All Over Yourself

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I have never once heard Aaron say, “oh man, I should have done XYZ” OR “I could have done XYZ better”.

The man has the most beautiful confidence, not the egotistical type of confidence. The confidence that stems from faith in his abilities and his choices. I have never witnessed the man live in fear or doubt.

This is one of his abilities that I struggle to understand. I am sure I am not alone on this one… We hear all too often in the workplace, the home, and schools “I should have studied more, I should have talked about that in my interview, or I should be a better person”. My question is, who in the world was the one to set the bar for these “shoulds”??? I go back and forth on this one. Is this a societal issue? The weight of the world? OR are these “shoulds” an internal pressure we place upon ourselves to obtain expectations we wouldn’t even put on our worst enemy.

If we eliminate the words shoulda, woulda, coulda from our vocabulary what would we be left with?

Drumroll please…

We would be left with DO!!!

That’s right, DO! Maybe Nike was on to something with “Just Do It”.

Every single day, Aaron lives in the DO. I am not sure I buy that this is a conscious decision he makes every morning upon awakening, I think the ability to DO is intertwined into every fiber of his being.

Now, sometimes this can be frustrating to the outside world (myself included) when Aaron just wants to DO DO DO. For example, “lets go get a coke at McDonald’s” or “lets go to party city”. Those are the types of “DO” that can ultimately be frustrating…especially after you just went to the gas station to bring him a coke or you went to party city yesterday (and the day before) and no they still do not sell the green clacker he is tirelessly searching for.

The DO I find infectious is his natural born talent to DO kind things, DO loving things, and DO the next right thing. This is what I like to call his internal DO. Contrary to the external DOs these do not include running around searching for tangible items that have not been made since 1999. These are the DOs that can change the world.

There is not a should, could, or would in Aaron’s vocabulary. He simply does. He gives life his all with zero expectations and zero regrets. He trusts that what he does is enough, because for him it is.

This is possible because he denies the pressure of outside expectations. He declines the internal dialogue so many of us are plagued with that becomes all too consuming with self-doubt. He trusts that all mighty gut of his and simply does the next right thing.

When we eliminate “should” from our internal dialogue we have the ability to view ourselves and in turn others through the lenses of love.

Now please, don’t should all over yourself this weekend. Get out there and DO.

Seeing the similarities over the differences is the heart’s greatest ability.

If you or someone you know would like to share their experiences about seeing the similarities over the differences please contact theheartability@gmail.com 🙂

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The Unconditional Heart

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Aaron’s impact on this world seizes to amaze me. Upon reading what I am about to share with you all, I was immediately covered in goosebumps and moved to tears . Joy “Lynette” Gibson is one of my mother’s dear friends who without a doubt has struck up a special bond with Aaron. They immediately clicked… it has been an absolute privilege to see and hear the way he has impacted her life.

Without further delay, please enjoy “The Unconditional Heart” written by Joy “Lynette” Gibson. 

When I first met Aaron 14 years ago, he offered me a beer at 2:00 in the afternoon. No one was home, I had stopped by unannounced … and he cordially invited me in. I did not hesitate and felt very welcomed, I did not take the beer, however I enjoyed my initial visit with this extraordinary young man. Not only did I not feel different but on the contrary, felt as if someone who did not know me (yet) let me come into a world so pure, natural, and similar … that I would only gain the ability to grow & learn from this new found friendship. And so, our story starts ……

I have been told by many that I am the “dog whisperer”.  No, Aaron is. Because, similar hearts find each other.   Certainly understand each other.   I have witnessed on many occasions this uncanny relationship between Aaron and dogs. As if they “get” him, he “gets” them. They both sense this similarity. No, I am not comparing Aaron to a dog. By any means. He is smarter. And certainly more clever and funnier! The idea that this unconditional yearning for acceptance and love just comes naturally. As it “should”.   however ….

I see more than often, people do not like to feel different. It makes them uncomfortable. So, trying to connect with the special needs person just makes them “ stand out”. At least in their minds. They don’t like it.  I however, see the need to connect with this “difference” because by finding the similarities, I will benefit from this humble relationship – and I’ve been fortunate to have had this for many years in knowing Aaron.  He has taught me to accept us as being similar. He doesn’t feel that we are different.   I have never treated him “special” – if anything he treats me special. He makes me feel needed and wanted. He does this, without any preparation, or pre-anticipated actions. He just does,  “it”!

I have conversations with Aaron that are so real and to the point.  One thing that Aaron says and does.. Automatically, is question “right back at me” … what I just asked him. And then, he comes up with, “so when are you coming to visit” or “how is Ben and Quinn” or “don’t come and visit” and “the hell with Ben and Quinn” God love him.  In that small window …. I smile (usually a lot) and my heart is filled with this momentary gratefulness of knowing this unconditional heart and soul that I know, deep deep in my heart, that he loves me, and cares about me. For real!  Aaron probably doesn’t really know why he loves me. But, one thing he does know, is that he does. Because he feels it. And he really doesn’t care how and why.  Wouldn’t our world be a better place if we all could take this ability to love and care unconditionally – value it and use it in our daily lives.  And not “dissect” every little word and emotion. – Well, in reality, this will never happen.

We know that “this” ability may not always work for everyone, but, if we could all try and find an Aaron in our life, whether it’s a person, a dream, a talent, a pet….  we can all grow and benefit from being open to this similarity (at least the curiosity) that man kind needs and would benefit from.

Aaron has personally brought me “joy” of acceptance. I couldn’t be more grateful to know him and to continue to grow with him. We are the same. And I am proud to say that.

– joy “lynette” gibson

Thank You, Joy “Lynette” Gibson for sharing your heart’s ability to see the similarities over the differences. 

Seeing the similarities over the differences is the heart’s greatest ability. 

“To be brave is to love someone unconditionally, without expecting anything in return.” – Madonna

If you have a story you wish to share about YOUR experience with seeing the similarities over the differences please contact: theheartability@gmail.com