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January 30, 2013
On one of those evenings when I was too tired to read but not tired enough to sleep, I began to browse the documentary section on Netflix. I came across Monica & David, a documentary about, well, Monica and David. The film traces their relationship from dating, to their wedding, to the early days of their marriage. It is quite a normal story in many ways but for this: both of them have Down Syndrome.
The two fell in love after meeting at a day program for people with intellectual disabilities and their mothers decided to honor their desire to marry (fathers are out of the picture). Down Syndrome is a condition with a spectrum of severity so that the effects are much more pronounced in some than in others. Monica and David are relatively high functioning, but are still visibly and profoundly disabled.
It is an interesting film and well worth the 1 hour and 7 minute investment. It displays both the joys and the trials of having Down Syndrome and of caring for people with Down Syndrome. Both of the central characters are so sweet and likable that it is impossible not to root for them as they embark on life together, as they try to find jobs, and as they try to live as normal a life as possible. Their mothers (and one step-father) love them dearly and are committed to doing what is best for them.
The film raises unavoidable questions. If a couple is in their 30’s but mentally developed to the equivalent of a child only 8 or 9 years old, are they old enough to marry? Can they really understand the nature of their commitment? Are they ready and able to have a sexual relationship? Should they have children or should their guardians ensure that they take measures to prevent having a family? (Though most men with Down Syndrome are infertile, there is still a very small chance of conceiving a child.) Just how independent can such a couple be and, if they will always need close parental oversight, are they really a fully married couple? The film is deliberate in raising such questions and always honors disability and the decisions the couple and their guardians have made. At a time when the vast majority of babies with Downs are aborted long before they can reach adulthood, Monica & David is powerfully and perhaps inadvertently pro-life, showing that these are real people with real lives who can live and love and dream and enjoy life. They are worthy of life.
But this is not a review of the film. Rather, it is a chance to share an application that continues to stand out to me.
At one point the filmmaker asks both Monica and David if they have Down Syndrome and what it means to have the Syndrome. Both of them show a near-complete misunderstanding of their condition. Monica says that everyone in the world has Down Syndrome while David insists that whatever it is, he does not have it. It is not that they are in denial, but that the nature of their disability is such that they simply do not understand, cannot understand, just how different they are. They cannot see and cannot understand that they suffer from a rare condition that sets them apart from most other people. They believe that they are just like everyone else.
(Careful here! As I move to the application I drew from the film, please read what I say and then refrain from accusing me of saying more than that.)
The way David and Monica are oblivious to their intellectual condition forced me to reflect on the way we are all oblivious to our spiritual condition. Every cell in their bodies declares that they have Down Syndrome. They have the physical characteristics, the mental characteristics, and on and on. Everyone who looks at them can immediately spot it and the more time you spend with them, the clearer it will become. Yet they are unable to see it.
And such is the case with our spiritual condition. Even though sin has extended to every part of our being, even though it marks everything we do and everything we are, we cannot see the nature of our condition. In this way we are all disabled—severely disabled—until the Holy Spirit opens our eyes so we can see what is so true about ourselves. I could not see my condition until the Lord allowed me to see it. And even today I am blind to aspects of that sinfulness thay may be so clear to the people who look at my life.
Both the intellectual disability of Down Syndrome and the spiritual disability of sin will some day come to an end because both have been conquered at the cross. The gospel promises that Down Syndrome, and every other syndrome, will cease when the Lord returns; the gospel promises that sin, and every other spiritual condition, will cease when the Lord returns. The hope, in either case, is the finished work of Jesus Christ and the great consummation to come.