In recognition of Scottish Learning Disability Week and Mental Health Awareness Week, Eddie McConnell, Chair of SCLD and Chief Executive of Down’s Syndrome Scotland, shares a letter to his son Finlay…
How are you today?
I ask, because I noticed that you put your birthday cards back up in your room eight weeks after we celebrated your 17th. I wondered if you were trying to cheer yourself up and return to ‘better times’. The world seemed so much calmer back then.
I’ve noticed also that you’re a lot quieter these days and that you’re keeping your own company more, more than usual. Your room has become your quiet haven, your place of solitude. Perhaps that’s why you chose to put your birthday cards back up there?
When I think back to your muted birthday celebrations, I think we both knew then, that something was about to happen, something was afoot.
So, I’m going to ask you again; how are you today, Finlay?
One of the many things I have learned from you, in our wonderful 17 years together, is the predictable rejoinder to that question. And yet, I still feel compelled to ask even though I already know that your response, in all likelihood, will be: “happy!”
I don’t mean to question the sincerity of your reply, but, in recent weeks, I have started to detect a change in the conviction of your response. I have long wondered if your reply has become more a patellar reflex than a conscious comeback, and, in more recent weeks, I have observed a distinctive change in the way you deliver your characteristic response. Your long-familiar confident retort has been replaced by an uncertain, wavering reply. These days, the ‘exclamation mark’ has been replaced with a ‘question mark’ and your change in intonation now invites a response from the questioner. ‘Happy’ with a question mark is an altogether different proposition.
I’m torn between two possible explanations.
On the one hand, I wonder if you are seeking reassurance; you have sensed the uncertain times we are living through and you are seeking some additional assurance that it’s ok to be ‘happy’. On the other hand, it’s as if you want to know that I’m ok; your empathy and insight – two of your most beautiful qualities – have triggered a compassionate question and you are awaiting my reply.
On both hands, I am so lucky to have you in my life. I have so much more to learn from you.
So, as we navigate, cautiously and carefully, the next steps in our fight against this villainous virus, I want everyone to sit up and listen to the Finlays of this world. Their voices are not being heard loud enough in these difficult times and they have so much to share with us about kindness, connectedness and love. The three qualities that must surely prevail as we ‘build forward differently’ as opposed to build back better (whatever that means.)
As we mark Scottish Learning Disability Week, I am struck by the ‘happy’ coincidence that it is also Mental Health Awareness Week. Finlay’s use of a simple question mark brings both into the frame and is a lesson for us all in these uncertain times.
Please start a conversation today and, most importantly, please seek out the voices of those made less visible and more vulnerable by this wicked virus.
Thank you, Finlay – we’ll speak again soon.
Eddie McConnell is Chair of the Scottish Commission for People with a Learning Disability and Chief Executive of Down’s Syndrome Scotland. With Carolyn, his wife, they have five children and Finlay, the youngest, is their bonus ball. He got the extra chromosome.