No, the beauty of the Games lies in the fact that it's the one place in this world of so-called "normal" that these youths and adults not only get to just be themselves but are celebrated for being themselves. Where, for once, they are not trying to 'fit in' to what everyone else thinks is acceptable, appropriate behaviour. It's the one time a year when they are celebrated for who they are. And celebrate they do.
I will never forget the first time I attended the Games, three years ago. The one thing that struck me so much on that occasion was how every single athlete was roundly cheered through to the finish. How that very last swimmer, who could still be a very long way behind after his fellow athletes had finished the heat, was still cheered just as heartily on to victory as was the first-place finisher. Cheered on to his victory.
And yet it's not just the athletes who flourish in such an environment. Rereading one of my favourite books this past weekend, I came across what struck me as the perfect words to describe why the Special Olympics are so vital, not just for the athletes but also for their families.
In the chapter aptly-titled "Acceptance", Barbara Gillis writes:
We all need people who see us as good and competent parents and who do not blame us for wrong is 'wrong' and difficult about our child. We all need places to go where people look past the fact that our child doesn't talk or doesn't respond to our directions. We need people who admire his physical beauty and his curiosity, or who recognize how clever he is in his mischief. We all need to go where our family is accepted as it is, and delight is taken in us and each of our children. And we all need people who show us the way, leading us by their example to the confidence or pride we have been struggling for. An ounce of this love can offset a pound of criticism and hostility. In its presence we open up like a day lily to the sun. If it isn't there, we have to find it...This past weekend my oldest daughter and our family basked in the warmth of the sun. There are no better words to describe it.
The day lily survives the night, closing its bloom, protecting itself until morning, when it again shows its fullness to the sun. We can protect ourselves and exist in the places where people deny our child and us the sun of acceptance, approval or praise. But we and our child must have our sun. We must have people who shine on us and places where we can relax, open and grow.