Charles de Gaulle had a hard life. He was a POW in WWI. He had to flee France in order to save it in WWII. He endured protests and assassination attempts. He also had a daughter named Anne, who was born with Down’s syndrome. In 1928 when she was born, this was not something people knew how to deal with—handicapped children were often sent away to institutions. Parents were made to feel ashamed, as if they were responsible, for having a “retarded” child.
But not de Gaulle and his Yvonne. They embraced their daughter. They embraced, built their lives, around the challenging but rewarding experience of raising her. “Her birth was a trial for my wife and myself,” he said. “But believe me, Anne is my joy and my strength. She is the grace of God in my life… She has kept me in the security of obedience to the sovereign will of God.”
There is a beautiful photo you can see of de Gaulle playing on the beach with Anne. It was not an isolated incident, but an insight into his soul, into the power that children have over parents, the ability they have to transform us. As de Gaulle’s biographer Julian Jacksons writes, “This strangely austere man who found it so hard to express affection would spend hours playing with his child, singing her songs, telling her stories she could not understand, encouraging her to play with small toys or to clap her hands.”
Each of our children is different. Each of them comes with their own limitations, challenges, and personalities. Whether they are seriously handicapped, have a minor learning disability or bring into our lives this or that, it doesn’t matter. We have been graced. They are a blessing, an opportunity for us to change and grow, to give us joy and something to throw ourselves into.
It’s a warrant, as we’ve said. We’re lucky to get it.