The 17-year-old with Down Syndrome has her mother, Facebook, and her own unwavering sense of self-confidence to thank for that.
Karrie’s story begins on August 12, when her mom, Sue, posted a picture of her to Facebook. Many of Sue Brown’s friends, who also have children with Down Syndrome, commented on the picture, noticing how well the clothes fit Karrie. They wanted to know where the outfit came from.
Answer: Wet Seal, Karrie’s favorite brand. The clothing store had begun carrying a line for curvier girls, Sue told her Facebook friends. She also told them that it was Karrie’s dream to one day model for the company.
Commenters urged her to make that dream a reality. They convinced Brown to set up a Facebook page, which she called, “Karrie Brown – Modeling the Future,” to get Wet Seal’s attention. It didn’t take long.
In only one day, the corporate office contacted the Browns. They told them that if Karrie’s page earned 10K likes by that Friday, they would fly Karrie to California to have her own professional shoot. The page quickly garnered 11K likes. Today, that number is 17.6K.
Then, Wet Seal came through on its promise. Big time.
The company flew Karrie and her mom from Collinsville, Ill., to its headquarters in LA. It paid for flights, a hotel, a new wardrobe, and a trip to Disneyland. Sue made sure to document the entire trip.
“She comes to life when the camera is on her,” Sue told KMOV. “I was told by this geneticist to never expect anything from her.”
Thankfully, Sue didn’t listen to the scientist.
She now hopes that Karrie will represent hope for others with disabilities. She’s begun a nonprofit called “Karried Away” that will help young adults find meaningful employment.
As for Karrie, she has some new goals now. She’d like nothing more than to dance with Ellen DeGeneres. Her Facebook fans are now hoping to get her page to 20K likes to get the TV host’s attention. Karrie’s even uploaded a video of herself breaking out some dance moves to show Ellen what she’s got.
In the end, though, her real dream is to help others learn. She told her mother she’d like to work in a library after high school.
“What about modeling?” her mother asked.
She had a simple answer.
“I’m already a model.”
Natalie at age 9.
Natalie at age 16.
These differences were things other people glazed over, and didn’t really notice at first glance. But to me, they were so unfortunately obvious. I wish I could say that I didn’t let these things phase me, but that was far from the truth. As I am now getting pictures together to hang on my dorm room wall in college, I am finding there are maybe 10 pictures of me from senior year. I had really intense orthodontics starting the end of junior year in preparation for the surgery I got at the beginning of the summer at Seattle Children’s Hospital, in which I had a halo device attached to my skull to move my bones forward. This only made me look even more different from my friends. Because of this, I avoided cameras like the plague, always volunteering to take the picture, or leaning out of frame when I saw I was in one. Now when I look through the photos of my senior year, it’s like I wasn’t even there. I’ve taken more pictures this summer than I did the entire school year. And I’ve spent the summer with a giant titanium device attached to my face.
Natalie at age 18 with her halo device.
I think this discrepancy is a big take away in what I have learned this summer. I always thought I stood out, and that people were looking at me like I was different. But after having this halo device on, I know what getting stared at based on appearance looks like. And now I realize it never happened to me, I just expected it and saw what I wanted to see. I’ve gained so much confidence this summer — something going into this experience I never thought would have been the outcome. At first I felt every stare. It was overwhelming when I thought about how many people had seen me out with my family or friends and were talking about me. But that got so tiring to worry about, it made me unable to enjoy what should have been fun times in my final months at home. So one day, I just let it go. I realized people were more uncomfortable with themselves for staring then with me, so I just stared right back, and they quickly shifted their eyes in embarrassment. If people we really curious, they would ask and I would explain the situation to them. If they didn’t ask, it didn’t matter, they were strangers, and I wouldn’t see them again anyway.
Just recently, at the One Direction concert I had been looking forward to for ages, I had my new confidence tested on a massive scale. But focusing on my friends and my excitement, I found myself thinking only about the concert, not all the people around me. At one point, I stopped at the merch booth to get a T-shirt to wear for the show. When I tried to put it on, I realized the head hole a little bit too small to accommodate my new hardware. Instead of blushing with embarrassment, I allowed my friend to carefully stretch it over my screws and laughed along with her as I thought about how ridiculous I looked.
Natalie at the One Direction concert.
In these final weeks of having the halo on, I’ve learned how to find confidence in myself and not dwell on the opinions of others. It’s a lesson I guess I needed to learn the hard way, and one that will only continue to help me after this ordeal is over.
The mind is such a gift that, unless met and directed by the heart, it will take over the show and run our lives. Then, no matter how well intended, our serious focus can narrow the things we’re looking at to a smallness that betrays their true nature. It’s always our job to meet life where it is, not to break life down so it can enter our small room. This poem explores the difference.
The trouble with the mind
is that it sees like a bird
but walks like a man.
And things at the surface
move fast, needing to be
gathered. While things
at center move slow,
needing to be
What I mean is
if you want to see the
many birds, you can
gather them in a cage
and wonder why
they won’t fly.
Or you can go to
the wetlands, birding
in silence before
the sun comes up.
It’s the same
with the things
we love or think.
We can frame them
in pretty cages or follow
them into the wild meadow
till they stun us with the
spread of their magnificent
A question to walk with: Are you looking at something in life in too narrow a way? How can you expand the way you are relating to this?
For more Poetry for the Soul, click here.
For more by Mark Nepo, click here.
In our last post we explored how your body and brain are not just your body and brain — from a 21st-century scientific perspective, you are also a teeming community composed of single-cell organisms. A tiny portion of the body are human cells (yours) while perhaps a hundred times more are mostly bacteria and archaea, known all together as the microbiome. Let’s go several steps further into this scientific re-examination of this thing you call your body.
Intellectually you know that your body today isn’t the same as the body you had in the past. But if you tune in, you generally feel the present you in continuity with yesterday’s you and all the others going back to childhood. You can imagine even going back to a fetus in the womb and the fertilized ovum from which the fetus grew. That first egg and sperm are derived without interruption from your parents’ living bodies. There is no gap where the life of your mother and father stopped and yours began. The flow of life is seamless back to your mother’s womb, and further back as far as human ancestry can go.
Even as we cross species boundaries in our backward journey, to Homo erectus and Homo habilis, our distant forebears, there are no gaps in life, not between you and hominids roaming the African savannah millions of years ago, not between you and the earliest single-cell organisms that were the first emerging life forms on our planet. So you can think of yourself as one living being. You may feel separate in space, occupying a warm and cozy apartment that is unlike a primordial pond covered in blue-green algae. But think about how your skin sheds cells, not just dead epidermal cells but living bacteria that coat your skin in a fine layer. They have separated from you, and yet they are still you. This apparent separation is only in space. In time, there is no separation, there is continuity extending over eons, and time is where we live.
By expanding “you” beyond a package of skin and bones that was born on a certain day and will die one day in the future, you merge with the flow of life as a whole. In other words, you have adopted the perspective of life itself. How old are you, then? At the everyday level of scale you count how many candles there are on your last birthday cake. But take in the 400 trillion microorganisms that are the largest biological part of “you.” Single cells can only reproduce by division. One amoeba divides in two. These aren’t the amoeba’s children. They are simply it, split in half. In a very real sense, all the amoebas alive today are the first amoeba, and the same goes for all the trillions of micro-organisms that occupy your body (and are necessary for it to survive, as we saw in previous posts. They aren’t free riders).
As “you” expand, boundaries melt away. Since the entire mass of animal and plant life on earth traces back to single-cell creatures, “you” are one enormous 3.5-billion-year-old being. Separation in space makes each of us think we are individuals. And we are. But the continuum of time at the cellular scale reveals an equal reality: we are united as a single biological being. In fact, the continuity of life becomes stronger as we move to even smaller and smaller scales, where seamless properties essential to life are already present. Which means that the properties of “you” — intelligence, self-organization, evolution, and a seamless flow of life — exist at all scales.
Consider the molecular and atomic levels of scale. There is no atom in your body that did not derive from something eaten, drunk, or breathed from the substance of the planet. Whether we talk about the “you” that is sitting in a chair reading this sentence or the “you” that is a single enormous 3.5-billion-year-old being, neither lives on the planet — in a sense they are the planet. Your living body is the self-organization of the substance of the earth itself — minerals, water, and air — into zillions of life forms. Earth plays Scrabble, forming different words as the letters are recombined (in this case, genetic letters), and although some words, like “human,” run away to live on their own, they forget who owns the game.
If “you” are a recreational pastime for the planet, what does it have in mind for its next move? Games involve a lot of repetition, but there has to be novelty as well, with records to break and highest scores to shatter. Earth decided that “you” needed a new playing field. At one level, the Mars probe named Curiosity can be viewed as a separate human achievement, and a very complex one. It involved skilled, clever engineers and scientists who figured out how to make a robot, propel it to another world, have it land, and then send information back to us.
But there’s another way of looking at it. Just as reasonably, logically, and scientifically, our living planet earth has been working toward reaching out to touch its neighbor, Mars, for 3.5 billion years (at least). It has taken this long for earth to create living things out of its own substance that could eventually figure out how to take more of the same substance, fashion it into a rocket and a robot, and take “you” off planet. (In the case of the moon, “you” actually landed on it, yourself.)
While “you,” focused on the separate self, were busy discovering fire, inventing agriculture, writing sacred texts, making war, having sex, and other survival stratagems, earth was busy organizing, through these activities, landing on the moon and tapping Mars on the shoulder. If this image strikes you as being too fanciful, look at the activity of your brain. You are conscious of having a purpose in mind when you walk, talk, work, and love. But it is undeniable that many brain activities are unconscious (e.g., controlling body temperature, growth, blood pressure), while the activity of the brain as a whole is totally unknown, either by you or any single region of your brain. Whatever makes earth a totality makes your brain a totality. Therefore, it isn’t fanciful to think of earth as moving in a coherent, unified direction, just as your brain has from the moment you were born.
Or to put it in a word, if you (as a person) have a purpose, then you (as life on earth) have a purpose. The two are seamless, even if it suits our pride, and our unfathomable ego, to stand above and separate from our surroundings. Where does that leave mind? Mind is something that condenses in some spaces, expands in others, functioning at everyday levels of scale, planetary levels of scale, and microscopic levels of scale. The smallest aspects of mind can be contained within larger aspects, just as molecules are contained within cells that are contained within bodies, and so on.
Science in the 21st century builds upon its long-held ambition to comprehend the very smallest and largest scales of nature, and it was always hoped — even taken for granted — that a set of fixed principles would suffice for the whole journey of discovery. That hope broke down when Newton’s set of laws didn’t fit the quantum world. Now the set of rules in the quantum world don’t fit the latest problems, such as what came before the Big Bang, the origin of life, and the appearance of mind in the universe. In this post we’ve been arguing that “you” exist no matter how large or small the scale under consideration. You are beyond any horizons of scale, any boundaries that your mind believes exist. The Vedas speak of Brahman (reality) being bigger than the biggest and smaller than the smallest. In modern terminology, this means “you.” We’ll finish in the next post with the mind-blowing conclusions that such reasoning leads to.
(To be cont.)
Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books translated into over 35 languages with over twenty New York Times bestsellers. Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation.
Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)
P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.
Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony)
Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. www.neiltheise.com neiltheise.wordpress.com
Adult narrator, VJ, tells her very personal story about being 10 years old and shamed for her weight. A nun at parochial school sent her home with a note, suggesting that VJ be taken to the doctor to deal with it. Her mother obliged, only to be taken to task by a medical professional. “He even insinuated that she was a bad mother because I was large,” VJ recalls.
The doctor told VJ’s mom their family would lose public assistance if she didn’t send her daughter to an inpatient facility for kids with severe asthma and diabetes. As VJ says, “Apparently, fat was so bad that I had to be put in a facility.”
VJ’s most heartbreaking realization: “I learned that other people could be really cruel.”
“We believe that, at the root of discrimination and judgment, there is often an unfortunate lack of basic understanding,” The Fat Experience Project says in its mission. “We believe that conversation — hearing the truth of others, and speaking our own truths — can be a healing force.”
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