I heard an interview this morning on NPR with the author, Raquel Jaramillo who wrote a book called Wonder under the pen name, R.J. Palacio. I haven’t read the book and I probably won’t, to be honest because I felt the views she expressed in her interview were misguided. She described being outside at an ice cream shop with her kids when a child with “a facial deformity” came up to them. She said her kid(s) said something embarrassing or wrong and they reacted in a way she didn’t like so, she quickly gathered her things and “ran away.” She said she felt so badly about that she started writing her book that night. I suggest it’s just a long apology. I really can’t imagine a worse reaction to the situation she described and definitely feel an apology is in order but what I hope for more is that she re-educated her children on a better way to react to someone different than them.
She sums up the book as a feel-good story because, “Auggie comes into their lives and they all become better for it. And they all rise to the occasion and become protective of him. He becomes part of their community.” You don’t want to protect him, his feelings and his right to be before knowing if he’s an asshole or not? I think she’s missing the boat on this one. She’s missing the fact that someone with a facial deformity is a person. Before you know them, before you know their story, before you decide if they’re worthy of your protection, they deserve your protection. What I’m suggesting is that the premise that a person must prove him or herself before being worthy of your esteem, acceptance or approval is faulty.
She does describe Auggie as wanting to feel ordinary and that kids in middle school turn into Lord of Flies, true and true but she’s just missing the point. Auggie could be a huge jerk who steps on the backs of people’s flip flops and that wouldn’t make him any less worthy than Suzie freckles who helps little old ladies cross the street. And by the by, where are these street crossing old ladies? I’ve been trying to help one for decades!
When I was three or four, I had a huge growth removed from my shoulder that had been present from six months old. When I was in middle school, the same growth came back further up my neck and had to be removed again. I grew up playing with a girl with polio. I was in a group in high school who would go on fun outings with the special ed high schoolers. You know what I wanted in middle school? You know what most kids want all throughout school? To feel liked to feel like they can just be themselves.
In pre-school, the growth and surgery weren’t that big of a deal, it felt more like everyone treating me like I was special. My teacher even had the same blood type as me and so I would’ve gotten her blood if I needed it. BLOOD FROM A TEACHER, AW YEAH! Teacher blood is totes cool in pre-school. However, when it came back in middle school, things were a little different. Middle school is the pits, dude. The absolute pits, for me at least. So when the growth came back, it was on my neck and was growing at an alarming rate about tennis ball sized and I couldn’t hide it that well. I remember so vividly being English class, wearing a turtleneck, and a “popularish” boy who sat in front of me asked me to “see it.” Being an accommodating sort of gal who can’t say no, I lowered my turtleneck. He reacted rather spectacularly and said something like, “Oh god! Gross! Eeeew!” and started laughing hysterically. I still feel ashamed I let him do that to me to this day.
I am usually also able to laugh when people are squicked out by my different colored eyes but I won’t say that I don’t have their reactions in my brain. The vast majority of people think it’s cool but some days they’re outweighed by the assholes.
Being physically different does not imbue the owner with magical niceness or overwhelming goodness or anything else special either. Sure, it can foster character building and give someone a look into being different if they have to wear an eye patch for a month, but being physically different from the norm is just normal. If you’re different, that’s your normal. You’re not different, you’re you. You know how you have a mole on your elbow and that famous actor lady doesn’t? That’s just normal.
We have such a narrow view of normal it seems to me. I obviously do not speak for anyone but myself and with only my experiences. I do try to be accepting of other people. I try to be accepting of their views and see their side, I try to accept that everyone’s physical being is different. There are small, barely noticeable differences in everyone alive and there are large differences as well. I try to treat everyone as just a person. To not treat them as the thing that makes them different. And to highlight the difference and “make it ok” because this particular person is cool missed the point, missed it entirely. Some people with physical differences are cool and some are assholes, just like you would think of any population.