When our daughter Penny was born and diagnosed with Down syndrome, fear felt incredibly powerful. The questions, the doubts, the potential medical complications, the prejudice against people with intellectual disabilities I didn’t even know I had carried in my heart for decades–it all welled up in a mountain of fear. I feared that I would fail completely as a mother and as a human being with a child with special needs. I feared that other people would reject our child and our family. I feared that she would suffer.
But right there alongside the fear was love.
Love was quieter, for sure. Gentler. If fear was a rock threatening to shatter me, then love was water, offering to carry me along.
What surprised me then, and in many ways surprises me still, is that over time, fear retreated. Or maybe it didn’t retreat. Maybe it stayed in one spot–immovable and hard as stone, and love propelled us away from that mountain.
There was the fear of medical complications, softened by the doctors who reassured us of their care for Penny and later by the recognition that she was healthy, and growing, and happy. The fear that she would never have friends, softened when she was invited to a birthday party in preschool, and again when I saw her holding hands on the playground with her new best friend in kindergarten, and again when she sat on the porch outside my office with a new friend from middle school and they chatted and painted each other’s nails. The fear that she wouldn’t learn, softened by her insatiable, if slowly-progressing, determination to learn how to read, how to do the monkey bars, how to put on makeup, how to talk at the appropriate time at the lunch table.
Statistics show the discrimination and harm people with intellectual disabilities still face in social situations, at school, and in the workplace. My fears weren’t unfounded. I just didn’t know that love could carry us through those fears, that fear did not need to be the end of the story.
Penny is almost 14 years old now, and whenever I find myself afraid–afraid that she isn’t learning enough in school, afraid that her friendships won’t last, afraid that her scoliosis will progress–I return to the refrain, the truth that we have lived: Love is stronger than fear.
What’s more, when I read about immigrants being denied access to the United States, or about another innocent victim of police violence, or about anti-semitic or racist symbols scrawled in public–in the midst of the fearful social realities of our modern world, I return to this refrain as well. Love is stronger than fear.
But to get past that mountain of fear, we would need to collectively lament the ways we have allowed fear to divide us, the ways we have held tight to our fear instead of surrendering to love, the ways we have participated in harm, and the ways we have failed to love out of our common broken and beloved humanity.
We must allow love to carry us, together, away from fear and towards collective possibilities for healing. I’ve caught a glimpse of this powerful, eternal, infinite force of love and the way it can heal families, heal friendships, and heal communities. I trust that this love could even heal a nation.
Love is stronger than fear, but fear will win out unless we allow love to empower sacrificial action in the world. Love is stronger than fear, but only if we participate in love. Only as we entrust ourselves to love. Only as we allow love to nourish us. Only as we allow love to connect us to one another. And only as we become willing to give whatever it takes in order for love to abound.
If you would like to read more about the early years in our journey from fear, please check out my memoir A Good and Perfect Gift.