Friday, November 19, 2010
Different, But Not Less
So last night I saw the HBO movie Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes. It was something I had been wanting to see for some time. I read Temple Grandin's book, Animals in Translation a couple of years ago, and was very interested in her story; I like Clare Danes; and HBO movies tend to be very well-made. I was not disappointed.
For those of you not familiar with Temple Grandin, she is an autistic woman who grew up in the 50s when autism was especially misunderstood. She overcame many obstacles in life to become a professor (she teaches at Colorado State University), an inventor, an author, and livestock consultant. You can read more about her here.
In any case, as she was growing up and going to school Temple was seen by some as a freak or a nerd because of her differences. She did not behave as "normal" people do and so was often misunderstood. Her values were sometimes ignored or she was humored because people did not understand her reality. According to the movie, a particular teacher mentored her because he realized she had certain gifts and talents that others did not possess. Unlike people who do not have autism, Temple literally thinks in images and can recall any image she has seen. Like many people with autism, she is especially sensitive to sounds and overstimulation. She relates to animals because she believes animals see things the way she does, and there seems to be much proof that this is true because she has designed safer, more humane slaughterhouses based on easing the fears she believes livestock has, and the implements she has invented seem to work very well.
Temple Grandin is somebody who is different from the norm and could be regarded as strange by those who do not understand the reality she lives. But her reality is just that: hers; and once she was able to unlock the door that allowed her to successfully communicate her ideas and allow her to share her knowledge and gifts with the world, people realized how valuable she was to society. She has saved the livestock industry a lot of money and headaches with her inventions and designs. She has helped people understand autism much better. She has contributed greatly to society. I believe much of this was due to the patience and love of those who wanted to understand and know her for who she is.
In the movie a quote was said in reference to Temple that greatly touched me: "Different, but not less." Sometimes we fear those that are different than us. I've written about this before. This fear, I think, comes from our misconceptions of who people really are or from ignorance or from preconceived notions or simply from a lack of understanding. A mentally retarded person might make someone uncomfortable because they do things that do not fit that person's idea of what is "normal" behavior. The homeless guy talking to himself might put one on guard because he or she doesn't understand that person's reality. Someone might be afraid of someone of another race, religion, or sexual orientation because they don't understand or relate or have mistaken notions of that particular race, religion, or orientation. We all do it, I think. We all have people in our midst who make us feel uncomfortable or fearful because we have mistaken notions or incomplete information about who these people are. We have preconceived ideas, some right and some wrong, upon which we base our judgments of other people, and those color our attitudes towards them.
The key, I think, is unlocking the door just as someone like Temple's mentor or Temple's mother or Temple's aunt did for her. But that sometimes takes a lot of time, patience, and love as well as a willingness to understand where another person is coming from. I bawled during this movie as Temple embraced her differences to become the great woman she has become.
It reminded me of another movie that always gets me crying, The Miracle Worker. The moment in the movie that sets me off is toward the very end when Helen Keller finally understands what Annie Sullivan has been trying to teach her; when she finally "breaks the code," so to speak; when she finally understand how the sign for "water" and the water from the well pouring on her hand relate. The realization that comes over her is absolutely heart-breaking (in a good way) to me.
Her door is unlocked because of a very patient and loving person who, instead of shunning or fearing her differences, tries to create successful communication. Helen Keller became an author, lecturer, and political activist. She could just as likely ended up isolated and misunderstood if not for someone believing in her and for seeing who she was and building on it. She was "different, but not less."
I'm not equating homosexuality with autism or blindness and deafness; I'm pointing out that homosexuality is seen by some as an aberration, as something that is not normal or is wrong. I beg to differ. Homosexuality is just "different, but not less." Temple Grandin once said, "If I could snap my fingers and become nonautistic I would not do so. Autism is part of who I am." Helen Keller once said, "I can see, and that is why I can be happy, in what you call the dark, but which to me is golden. I can see a God-made world, not a man-made world." These women embraced who they were because that's who they were. Being gay is a part of who I am. Whereas there was a time when I would have done anything to be rid of it, I embrace and love it because it a huge part of me.
I recently saw Katy Perry's video for her song "Firework." I love its message of celebrating who you are.
I love Christina Aguilera's video "Beautiful" for the same reason.
I said before in a previous post I referred to earlier that I believe there is a place at God's table for all. I do not believe fear is of God. In fact, because I think it is often fear that causes hate, I feel it is accurate to say that the opposite of love is fear.
Jonah and I were talking tonight about how so often we contain ourselves in boxes because of fear. I believe there is so much more beyond the four walls we sometimes limit ourselves to. Christ's ministry, as Jonah reminded me, was not limited within four walls of a church. It was expansive; he was constantly out there getting to know all the "freaks" and loving them and caring for them when no one else would. He took special care of the misunderstood, the neglected, the shunned.
I think that's what Christ's gospel is all about. We need to love and understand each other better. I plead guilty of not doing it, too. Instead of judging people based on perceived differences, we need to find out who they really are inside and learn to communicate with them because they more than likely have something very valuable to teach us.
Jonah loves to say that when we're constantly looking down in life, we see nothing; when we look up, we see an endless sky of limitless possibilities. So much in life I think we limit ourselves because we can't think outside the box of what might be "normal" or acceptable." In doing so, I think we deprive ourselves of a great, limitless universe of possibility.
"Different" does not mean "less."