Today’s guest author is yet another former JFRC student. Kathleen is currently a senior studying at the University of San Francisco. We met Kathleen practically the first day she arrived to study here. Last Spring semester Annie’s aunt Rachel came to study too, and within hours had found Kathleen, her soulmate. The two of them quickly realized they were meant for each other and have been best friends ever since. Kathleen has a wicked sense of humor, an unbelievable talent for writing, but her greatest attribute is her enormous heart. We are so glad Rachel “found” her and brought her into our lives. Kathleen, we look forward to many pictures of the three of you like this, with Annie as a girl, teenager, and young woman. Sending lots of love from Rome. Thanks for sharing your incredible writing talent for the Amazing Adventures of Anne Kathleen!
Last Spring I had the opportunity to spend the semester as a student at the John Felice Rome Center. The first few days in Rome were hectic to say the least. I found myself faced with the rush to unpack, stock up on red wine (for health purposes obviously, good for the cholesterol), and attempt to befriend as many people as possible for fear that I would end up in a corner of my room eating Crunchies in sweatpants and practicing the least creepy way to say “Ciao, tu essere mio amico?”
Luckily, the universe is merciful, and within a day I met Rachel Beazley.
Now, I’m not sure if you are familiar with the protocol of making friends, but as an obvious expert, I can offer a failproof method. The best route to solidify a friendship is to haunt the significant other’s footsteps night and day till they feel can’t function without you. This is the basis of love. Or, you know, stalking.
It was through this method that I first had the chance to meet Annie the next day at lunch. I’m sure there was a lot said that afternoon along the lines of “I LOVE BABIES”, “:unintelligible fawning noises:”, “I want one!” but looking back now there is only one thing that I can remember saying, and it’s a moment that I will never forget. Because the next words out of my mouth were:
“What a beautiful baby! Is she part Asian?”
I would love to blame this moment on jet lag, but the truth is I had never really met a child with Down Syndrome. When Rachel corrected me, I could literally feel my heart sink (embarassment might have been a contributing factor). It would be easy to say now that I didn’t see Annie differently after that, but I did. It was like the words complicated her, made her something fragile and difficult. Just hearing the words “Down Syndrome” led me to a lot of assumptions about someone I had known for only minutes.
Having spent so much time with Annie since, it’s hard to admit to my initial reaction, but I think it teaches an important lesson: That there is a stigma around individuals with Down’s Syndrome. A stigma that leads people to think that to have Down Syndrome is to be somehow less whole. To be less capable than those around them. But it couldn’t be farther from the truth. I have learned more from Annie than almost any individual I have met in my life.
Just being around her has an effect on you. She literally radiates. Annie’s personality is so unique and enormous, the kind that fills a room with warmth. I have watched her light up when Rachel sings, start to learn sign language, and I’ve seen her brain-freeze face when she eats gelato. There is something about her that reaches you and connects in a way that is indescribable. Every person I have spoken to who has spent time with Annie is overwhelmed by how incredibly beautiful she is and how fortunate they feel that their lives were touched by her.
It takes a remarkable person to fill the world with so much love. And even if I only managed to scrape a B in Italian, I was able to learn that Annie truly is that remarkable.