So why is it that I get all choked up when I watch this Toyota commercial? It features Paralympic gold medalist Lauren Woolstencroft, a young woman who was born with significant physical disabilities and went on to win a gold medal in Paralympic skiing. Here’s the one-minute ad that tells her story. I think I would find this story moving no matter what, but I know I’m also drawn to it because we too have a daughter with a disability. On the surface, it’s a strange parallel. Penny is not an exceptional athlete or student. She has overcome obstacles and defied expectations, but she’s just a kid who likes weddings and ballet and cheeseburgers. She’s just a kid who has Down syndrome. There’s no part of me that sees her going on to win a gold medal. There’s no part of me that aspires for her to be in the spotlight or on a national stage. So what’s the connection between her story and Lauren Woolstencroft?
I think the reason this story moves me to tears is not the gold medal, and it’s not the incredible athletic ability of this young woman. If anything, those aspects of who she is could prove to be a distraction from what really matters about her life. What really matters is that this young woman was valued and loved. Her body looked different from other kids’ bodies. She faced serious physical challenges that other kids never had to face. But what strikes me as significant about her is not her awards and accolades but the way her life testifies to the possibility for joy, for connection, for satisfaction that comes from knowing you are loved and knowing you have purpose. We don’t see the love behind the scenes in this ad, but it seems impossible that she would be who she is without a tremendous amount of love behind her.
When Penny was born, the odds were against her. In many ways, they still are. She has had multiple minor surgeries. People sometimes struggle to understand her speech. Schoolwork is challenging. Social life is challenging. But her life is also a testimony to the possibilities that open up when we know we are created in love and loved by others.
We often only hear stories about disability that end in triumph (a gold medal!). And those stories often seem like the exception. But those stories should instead be a reminder that every human life is imbued with quiet possibility, that every human life holds opportunities for connection and purpose, that every human life is worthy of faith and hope and love.