Finding the meaning of life and the meaning in life

Gabriel Hamilton celebrates his 15th birthday.

By Jacinta Hamilton
Guest Column

J. Hamilton

It is very clear that Gabriel loves birthdays. I mean really loves birthdays. And not just his own birthday. Anybody’s birthday. Really! If you don’t believe me, watch him light up when he sees decorations. Wrapped presents. Someone baking a cake. But the pinnacle … singing the Happy Birthday song and of course blowing out the candles!

With our immediate and extended family, it has always been a tradition that you must sing the Happy Birthday song twice. This is to Gabe’s advantage because his entire face creases into a big toothy smile and he just beams with pure joy when we start singing. He genuinely doesn’t care whether or not it’s his birthday because he finds great happiness in celebrating the special days of others. So maybe you too can start a new tradition?! Sing once for the birthday girl or boy and a second time for the people who supported bringing that life into the world.

I firmly believe that Gabriel’s simple mindset is a gift. He truly is my role model. He is not tainted by the world. Gabriel’s life, and those of other individuals with Down syndrome and special needs, exemplify living in the world but not being of the world.


I took it for granted that everyone thinks this way. When Gabriel was born, I was very happy. It never occurred to me to think otherwise. However, it does not make you a terrible person to feel confusion and anxiety over a child’s unexpected diagnosis. There will be challenges but I can guarantee you that your special child was given to you by God to make you a better person.

This point should challenge the way we think about people with disabilities, especially the unborn. Every person is endowed with intrinsic human dignity at the moment of conception, regardless of extrinsic physical, mental or developmental non-conformities. Don’t wait until your child grows up or does something great to recognize that they were perfect the day they were born. Many people have regrets about how they thought or felt towards the special-needs person in their life because with time, they finally realized that they wouldn’t want to change a thing.

I wrote the following narrative as a dialogue to counter the lies of the world with the truths of Down syndrome:

The world’s narrative: Palms with extra creases. Toes with extra space. Eyes spaced farther apart. Unique facial features. Poor muscle tone.

My narrative: Ten fingers. Ten toes. Blue eyes. Wide smile. Excellent hugger.

The world’s narrative: Rejected.

My narrative: Two feet, so happy to explore the world.

The world’s narrative: Extinguished.

My narrative: Little hands ready to be held.

The world’s narrative: Unfortunate. Risky. Disappoin­tment. Deficient. Slow.

My narrative: Beloved. Unique. Special. Necessary. Valued.

The world’s narrative: You don’t matter.

My narrative: You matter little one, more then you’ll ever know.

Every life has a story. Every life that is eliminated leaves a void, a story deprived of the chance to be written. From womb to tomb, each person has precious, infinite value. From the moment of conception to their God-given natural end, every life is special.

So many people are legitimately and genuinely searching. They are doing a lot of things right. Yet, as St. Augustine said, they are restless because we were all created with a God-shaped hole in our hearts. God alone can solve that piece. Let’s help everyone see that all people are worthy for exactly who they are. This is how a person finds the meaning of life and meaning in life.

There is nothing “down” about a Down syndrome diagnosis. We are uplifted and inspired every day by the way God created individuals with Trisomy 21 to live their lives. It is truly possible to view a Down syndrome diagnosis as a blessing for a special few as a response to the world’s narrative on the contrary.

(Jacinta Hamilton, a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City, is a fourth-grade teacher and children’s ballet instructor in Iowa City. She earned her B.A. in Elementary Education from the University of Iowa and is pursuing a Master of Education in School Administration from the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. She is the oldest of seven children, one of whom, Gabriel, lives with Down syndrome.)

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