Friday, May 02, 2008


Two weeks ago in sacrament meeting there was a really good talk on gratitude. The speaker gave an excellent talk, I thought. He relayed a story about how as a young man he was struggling financially with a wife and seven kids to support. He had a really junky Volkswagen as his only means of transportation to and from work and barely enough money to even fill up the tank with gasoline. Anyway, he was driving to work one day when he smelled smoke. Somehow his backseat had caught on fire. He stopped the car and quickly grabbed his briefcase and watched helplessly, along with a policeman who had stopped, as his car was engulfed in flames. A bus driver came along and attempted to use her fire extinguisher to put out the fire, but the extinguisher malfunctioned. The man’s car was destroyed and because he was so strapped for cash, he didn’t even have good enough insurance to cover the cost. He said he sat on the curb close to tears. Of course, he was worried about how this would affect his wife and seven kids. As he sat at their kitchen table that night, feeling devastated by the day’s events, his wife grabbed his hand and asked, “Where are you?” “Home,” he replied, rather puzzled. “And where are your kids?” “In bed,” he said, still confused. “And who’s next to you?” “You,” he replied. She squeezed his hand and said, “Now isn’t that a lot to be thankful for?” He said it really put things into perspective for him.

He also relayed a story about a friend whose husband had left her, and just as she was getting her life back on track, she was injured in a serious car wreck which has left her comatose to this day. But instead of being bitter and feeling sorry for themselves, her family is thankful that she is doing well physically and that the doctors are so good with her, and this woman’s family was more concerned about the well-being of this speaker, who has cancer, than they are with being preoccupied with self-pity. It’s a good lesson.

All in all, I felt that in spite of the simplicity of the lesson in this man's talk, it was a good lesson to be reminded of. It's easy to feel sorry for oneself and lose track of the manny blessings one has.

I know I have so much to be grateful for. In spite of challenges or difficulties, I have felt so blessed throughout my life, and I have felt especially blessed these past few years.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Celebrating Diversity

Lately I feel like I’ve been getting strong messages from Heavenly Father that celebrating differences and individuality is very important. It really has been reinforced many times these past few weeks. I've seen four movies, Ratatouille, The Martian Child, Ma Vie en Rose, and Stagedoor, that really hit home this point. Also something I saw on Oprah as well as some experiences I’ve had substitute teaching have reinforced this as well. I’d like to share these experiences.

The Martian Child didn’t get very good reviews when it came out in theaters, but I saw it on DVD and I was really moved by it. John Cusack plays a widower author who adopts a troubled boy who thinks he’s from Mars. The movie was mainly about their relationship. The kid that played the child was really good. Of course, the kid doesn’t fit in and does rather odd things, but rather than discourage him, John Cusack’s character encourages the fantasies (or the boy’s reality as he sees it) in order to gain the boy’s trust. Rather than making the boy feel ashamed or making him try to conform to society’s version of what normal is, he allows the boy to be himself, and by doing so, the boy is able to adjust to life better and, more importantly, to love better. I guess what touched me was that this boy was quite odd, but this father was compassionate and patient enough (most of the time; the relationship was not without its challenges) to let this boy be himself, and while other people may have been put off by the boy’s behavior, John Cusack’s character tried not to show that he was put off even if he may have been. I thought that was a very Christ-like thing to do, and it got me to thinking: why are we so afraid of people who are different? What is it that we fear so much? And I freely admit I have my own prejudices and fears because of people who may be different culturally, socially, intellectually, or mentally. But I often wonder what it is we’re so afraid of.

I’ve never been a conformist. In fact, I often feel rebellious when I am expected to conform, especially if I am being asked to conform to something that is not who I feel I am. And while I do understand the need for unity and the idea of “one heart, one mind,” I also believe that God created us as unique individuals and that we should celebrate our differences and celebrate diversity. I think it is difference that makes us so interesting as human beings.

Last week I was substituting for a choir class at a local high school, and there was a particular song that had a lot of dissonance in it. The other day I substituted for a jazz choir at another high school and of course jazz pieces often have dissonant chords. I am a big, big fan of dissonance. Some of my favorite musical chords are dissonant ones. It’s the clash of various notes and how they work together in harmony that makes them interesting and beautiful to me. I find them especially interesting because it’s fascinating to me that putting notes together that one might not expect to go together can make really beautiful sounds if put together in a particular way. I think that’s how life and human beings are. Without difference and individuality life would be bland, boring, and even dangerous, I think.

That’s also why as Jonah and I have searched for a house I have been really uninterested in those communities where all the houses look the same or why I am reluctant to live in a community with an association fee where I have to abide by others’ rules. Stepford is not where I want to live. I celebrate things that are different, and I’m not a big fan of total conformity. And especially if you have someone leading you who is misguided, conformity is dangerous. If there wasn’t dissent think of how treacherous that could be. Hitler might have had total power over the world or the Bush administration's misguided policies would go unchallenged.

Another movie I saw was Ma Vie en Rose, which was a charming Belgian film about a young boy who is convinced he is really a girl. Of course this creates a lot of turmoil among his family and in his neighborhood. And again, it’s that whole idea of what are people so afraid of? The boy tries to conform to what his parents want in order to please them, but he loses the joy in his life as a result, and it is only when his parents accept him for who he is rather than try to force him to be someone he doesn’t feel he is that happiness is again restored.

In watching Ratatouille, the main premise of the story is that there is a rat who wants to be a gourmet cook. Of course, in normal society a rat is considered dirty and vile. So in this cartoon’s reality the rat is expected to be just an ordinary rat and his dreams of being a gourmet cook are considered silly or foolish. But the rat dares to be different and goes after his dreams and ends up the head chef at a fancy French restaurant. Yeah, it’s just a cartoon, but I liked its message (I also observed that same message (breaking away from what one is expected to do to reach for higher dreams) to a much lesser extent in the animated picture, Bee Movie, as well).

Another film was Stagedoor, which profiled five students at a theatre summer camp. I certainly related to much of it and was drawn by the idea that so many of these kids who don’t belong or are made fun of in the “normal” world find a place of acceptance in the theatre world (or world of the arts). I know that’s how it was (and is) for me. I think it’s so important to feel like one belongs, and it’s great to find a group of people who accept you as you are, idiosyncrasies, faults, quirks, and all. I know I certainly feel that way.

I was picked on a lot as a kid because I was weird. I felt completely at home and well-loved in the theatre world. I know for gay people, the arts often provide a place of solace and normalcy. I know that I have found much acceptance by my theatre friends. I’m sure that’s why people join the church (and I would imagine the inability to belong is why many leave the church as well). I think whatever kingdom I end up in the afterlife will be the one where I feel I belong the most and where I will be the happiest.

A most unusual thing I saw on the Oprah Winfrey Show, which I rarely watch, was a pregnant man. What was really fascinating to me about this case was that the man used to be a woman (a very pretty one, in fact), but had received testosterone treatments to be a man. However, she had kept her reproductive organs, so she was still able to bear children. On Oprah she (now identifying herself as “he) looked fully like a man. I wouldn’t have known he used to be a woman. Anyway, he had married a woman who couldn’t have kids, but he still had the capability of bearing children, and because they wanted a child, they inseminated the husband (who, as I said, still had female reproductive organs). He is now pregnant, has been off testosterone for a year, I think, and the baby and pregnancy, thus far, appear to be normal.

Of course, some people are a bit shocked or perplexed by this turn of events, but Oprah interviewed their neighbors who, while surprised, appeared to be supportive.

As I watched this very unusual story I felt compassion for this couple. I thought, “Why not? As long as they aren’t hurting anyone or the baby, what’s the problem?” That baby will probably grow up to have two loving parents, and isn’t that what any child deserves? Even according to society’s standard, since the couple appears to be a man and a woman, how will that child be any different than one raised in a “traditional” family?

This woman felt different and wanted to be a man, but still was capable of having a baby. Was it ethical for her to do so? As I say, as long as she isn’t injuring anyone else, I don’t see the problem. Of course, it remains to be seen what challenges or problems will result from this pregnancy, but I didn’t necessarily see a problem in these two parents having a child together.

I found it ironic that as my sister's visiting teachers were giving a visiting teaching lesson on marriage to my mom and sister that one of the women brought up this same episode of Oprah and said that there were some things you know were “just plain wrong,” and this was one of them. I quietly disagreed. It’s not for me to judge, and as I think I've said repeatedly in my blog, I just don’t believe in black and white. Perhaps I am wrong, and I’ll have to face up to that some day if I am, but that’s what I believe, and I feel I am happier for it. I was just glad this woman (who I actually like quite a bit) didn’t bring up homosexuality. Of course, she wouldn’t have known it, but that might have made my sister or/and mom, and certainly me, uncomfortable.

You know, another thing I’ve really noticed lately, especially as I substitute teach for the elementary schools, is how uninhibited and innocent these kids can be, and how sad it is that the world and society take that away, often because they try to force them to conform to what is considered normal. Certainly some inhibitions need to be mastered or life would be chaos, and certainly the loss of innocence is just a natural course of life, I suppose, but I find it sad that the end result can sometimes cause a loss of creativity, low self-esteem, cynicism, lack of kindness, anger, or a loss of faith and hope.

The other day I was teaching third grade, and the kids had to do a dance. Nobody cared how silly they looked or whether they were perfect at doing the steps. They were just having fun. I thought how sad it is that someone will make fun of one of those boys one day and say what he is doing is effeminate or that he is a sissy. Or that someone will be so interested in perfection that they criticize a child to the point where he or she is more worried about doing it exactly right rather than in the exhilaration of the pure joy of doing it. Or that a child’s creativity will be stifled because he or she is made to conform to another’s way of doing it.

Anyway, those are just some observations I’ve had lately. I mean, I know I, myself, am often too afraid of what others think or that I am overly critical of myself. Ah, to be a child again and not care so much.