"Courage doesn't always roar," wrote Mary Anne Radmacher. "Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow.'" I don't think Eunice Kennedy Shriver ever got that memo. She was as much a profile in courage as any of her famous clan, and hers was not a courage of the meek or quiet variety. Eunice roared.
I didn't know her well--except that all of us who have children with intellectual disabilities knew Eunice well. From the other side of the world or the other side of a table, at sports meets or board meetings, she insistently made herself known--not for personal gain, but to champion those least able to champion themselves. She moved through the world like a lioness hunting for her cubs: beautiful, majestic, indomitable, relentless in providing for those who needed her.
My family needed her. When I met Eunice, my son Adam, who has Down syndrome, was nine years old and could barely speak--in fact, he can still barely speak. But even before he was born, when everyone else seemed to be saying he would ruin my life, Adam had a voice: Eunice's voice. That lioness roar pierced the chatter of fear to tell me about the realities of my son's life; about his dignity, his strength, his ambition, his joy in effort and achievement, his inestimable value. Ultimately, of all the voices I heard, Eunice's spoke the loudest, because it spoke the truth.
All my loved ones have been blessed beyond measure by Eunice's fierce compassion: multiply "beyond measure" by hundreds of millions, and you can still only begin to understand the blessing she was to this world. I'll never know what gave her the energy to fight so long and powerfully for those so small and powerless. I only know that tonight, because the roar of her mighty spirit still echoes through the world, the rest of us can lean on her strength even as we embrace the sorrow of her loss, and find the courage to say that we will try again tomorrow.
August 11, 2009