A well known speaker started his seminar by holding up a $20 bill. In the room of 200, he asked, “Who would like this $20 bill?”
Hands started going up. He said, “I am going to give this $20 to one of you but first, let me do this.” He proceeded to crumple the dollar bill up. He then asked, “Who still wants it?” Still the hands were up in the air.
“Well,” he replied, “What if I do this?” And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now all crumpled and dirty.
“Now who still wants it?” Still the hands went into the air.
“My friends, you have all learned a very valuable lesson. No matter what I did to the money, you still wanted it because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $20. Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way. We feel as though we are worthless. But no matter what has happened or what will happen, you will never lose your value in God’s eyes. To Him, dirty or clean, crumpled or finely creased, you are still priceless to Him.
The movie The Elephant Man tells the true story of John Merrick. Merrick was born in the slums of England in 1862, and almost from birth experienced massive rejection due to his grotesque appearance. Merrick suffered abnormalities that resulted in a large and severely misshapen head, loose, rough skin, and twisted arms and legs.
His mother loved dearly, but died when he was ten. His new step-mother didn’t take to him, and at twelve, he was expected to work to contribute to the family finances. After two years working in a cigar shop he was dismissed because his deformities meant he could not keep up the required pace. His father found him a job, of all things, as a door-to-door salesman. This only accentuated Merrick’s self-loathing. When people opened their doors and saw him people would literally scream and slam the door in his face. Those who knew who he was refused to answer their doors.
After this “failure” Merrick’s father began beating him. Merrick wound up on the street and was rescued by a kindly uncle, the only person who would help him out. Not wishing to further burden his uncle Merrick left to live in a squalid workhouse for drunks, cripples and the mentally ill. His life there was so miserable that he offered himself to a carnival owner as a sideshow act.
Merrick was a hit. People would pay money to line up and observe him like some animal in a zoo. But the carnival finally provided him with security and a place he belonged. It was while the sideshow was in London that Merrick met Dr Frederick Treves. Disgusted by Merrick’s treatment Treves wanted to help. He gave Merrick his card, but lost track of him. The police started clamping down on the sideshows, so Merrick was sent to Belgium to work in a sideshow there. But when Belgian police also clamped down Merrick was forced to make his way back to England. As he limped down Liverpool Street station, foul smelling and misshapen, a crowd gathered simply to watch him.
The police took him aside to sort things out, but Merrick’s speech was so slurred by his deformities that they couldn’t understand him. It was at this point Merrick showed them Dr Treves’ card. The police sent someone to get him, and Treves rushed back. He took Merrick back to London hospital and began a newspaper appeal for funds to help Merrick. The response was very warm, and soon sufficient that Merrick was able to have his own house on the hospital grounds with permission to live there permanently.
Treves’ care marked a real turning point for Merrick. At first Merrick would act like a frightened child and hide when anyone came into his room, but over time he began to engage some in conversation. Dr Treves discovered that Merrick was in fact highly intelligent and sought to nurture his growth. Yet Merrick’s greatest hurdle was still to fall. All his life Merrick had known only fear and rejection from women. They had literally run from him. So Dr Treves asked an attractive widow he knew if she could come into Merrick’s room, smile at him and shake his hand. When she did Merrick broke down into a ball of tears, later telling Treves that she was the first woman in his life apart from his mother to have showed him kindness.
That was a breakthrough moment for Merrick. In the coming years more and more people, women included, would meet him and show him kindness. He began meeting Countesses and Duchesses. He even had many visits and letters from the Princess of Wales, forming a friendship with her. Throughout this time Dr Treves reports Merrick changed dramatically. He began to develop some self-confidence, to spend time traveling in the country, to discuss poetry with another new friend, Sir Walter Steel.
Merrick died in April 1890. His deformities had never allowed him to sleep lying down as most people do. He had to sleep in a sitting position, his head resting on his knees. He apparently tried one night to sleep lying down, to be more “normal”, and sadly dislocated his neck and died.
Merrick’s story shows us the power of love and acceptance. Rejected all his life, treated as a “thing”, it was the loving welcome of others that liberated him to become all he could be. His life was made tragic not by his deformities but by the response people made to them.
Source: Reported at www.elephant-house.fsnet.co.uk
Judith Durham was one of Australia’s first international pop stars. As lead singer for The Seekers she toured Australia and the world and had a string of hits, including the first Australian group to have a No 1 hit overseas.
Yet while Durham appeared to be on top of the world, emotionally she was a mess. In contrast to her adoring fans she became deeply depressed about her weight and appearance. She started to hate her face – too pudgy, eyes too small. She developed a hatred for her body, considering her fuller figure unattractive. When superthin model Twiggy came on the scene her self loathing grew. Even after losing 16 kilograms she still felt fat!
Durham says that her depression was matched by loneliness. There was no one she felt she could talk to about it. “I was just consumed by it” she says. “You could go to a doctor and ask for diet pills, but I didn’t know if there was anybody I could have talked to who could have changed inside my head, who could have convinced me, ‘It’s all right to look like this.'”
Jacob Dylan is the lead singer in a band called the Wallflowers. He’s also the son of Bob Dylan, and all his life he’s had to live in the shadow of his famous musician father. When his band went on their first tours they’d find the audiences packed with middle aged fans of his father armed with 20 page letters for the accessible younger Dylan to pass on to his inaccessible father.
I was struck by something Jacob Dylan said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. He talked about how books had been written about his father, even history books, analysing Bob Dylan’s place in shaping modern culture. The he said this, “There’s countless biographies. In most of the books, there might be one page that mentions the names of [Bob’s] children. That’s it. I don’t want to be a page in the book.”
Source: Quote taken from Rolling Stone Magazine Issue 585, March 2001
He’s the most successful songwriter in history, his boyhood home has been preserved by the British National Trust, he’s one of the world’s most famous people, he’s been knighted by the Queen, he has a personal fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet he’s insecure. When interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald in 2002 and asked about his dispute with Yoko Ono over the order in which his and John Lennon’s names appeared on songs they wrote, Sir Paul McCartney explained it this way. Why does it matter? “Because I’m human. And humans are insecure. Show me one who isn’t. Henry Kissinger? Insecure. George Bush? Insecure. Bill Clinton? Very insecure.”
Source: reported in Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend magazine August 17, 2002.
David Suzuki is one of the world’s best known campaigners for the environment. He is a respected and regarded citizen of his homeland Canada. Many people are unaware however of the painful memories Suzuki has from childhood.
On December 7, 1941 the Japanese airforce bombed Pearl Harbour and so Japan entered the Second World War. People of Japanese descent were immediately suspect in Canada. Within nine days of the bombing they were required to register with the authorities as “enemy aliens”. Their property was confiscated, their bank accounts were frozen and they were told they would have to leave their homes.
David Suzuki was five years old at the time, and his parents were second generation Canadians…of Japanese descent. By the time David turned he, his mother and his sisters were sent to an internment camp in British Columbia. His father was sent to work on a road gang, rejoining his family in the camp a year later. The conditions were filthy and cramped.
Toward the end of the war the internees were given a choice. The Canadian government would pay for them to move to Japan, or they could remain in Canada, on condition that they lived east of the Rocky Mountains. Japanese-Canadians were no longer welcome in the Suzuki’s hometown of Vancouver. David’s family chose to remain in Canada, destitute and in poverty.
The entire episode left a terrible legacy in David Suzuki’s life. Proud to be Canadian he began to despise his Japanese descent and his Asian appearance. For years as a teenager he saved money for an operation to enlarge his eyes and dye his hair. He refused to walk down the street with his parents because he felt ashamed of them. His father drummed into him that to do well with white people he would have to be twice as good as them.
Even today Suzuki struggles with the past. He says “The terrible burden I’ve had all my life is that I seem to be constantly trying to reaffirm to Canadians that I’m a worthwhile human being. It’s really ridiculous to be 64 years old and still feel that you’ve got to prove to them that you’re not somebody who should be locked up.”
Source: Information reported in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend Magazine, April 8, 2000
Janis Ian is a Grammy award winning American singer-songwriter who had a number of number one hits in the 1970’s and 80’s. One of her hit songs was At Seventeen. The lyrics are a deeply moving comment on “beauty” and the ways we treat those considered “ugly”.
I learned the truth at seventeen
that love was meant for beauty queens
and high school girls with clear skinned smiles
who married young and then retired
the valentines I never knew
the Friday night charades of youth
were spent on one more beautiful
at seventeen I learned the truth
And those of us with ravaged faces
lacking in the social graces
desperately remained at home
inventing lovers on the phone
who called to say – come dance with me
and murmured vague obscenities
it isn’t all it seems at seventeen
To those of us who knew the pain
of valentines that never came
and those whose names were never called
when choosing sides for basketball
it was long ago and far away
the world was younger than today
when dreams were all they gave for free
to ugly duckling girls like me
Source: Lyrics from Janis Ian, Seventeen
The Frillfin Goby is an ugly little fish, 10-15 centimeters long, that lives in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world. You find them in rock pools. See a goby and you’re not likely to give it much thought. It’s not pretty like so many tropical species, nor is it impressive in size, nor is it any good to eat. It’s just an ugly, nondescript little fish swimming in rock pools.
But it is a remarkable creature. When you’re a fish living in a rockpool the biggest danger is birds who see you as a fine meal. Not really many places to run and hide. The goby however has developed an incredible technique to escape. It can fling its 10 centimetre body into a nearby rockpool, and if necessary to another, then another, and on and on.
The reason this is incredible is that the goby is jumping blind. It cannot see the rock pool into which it will leap, yet manages to jump with amazing accuracy.
How does the goby do this? Scientists have discovered that at high tide the goby swims around the rocky areas and makes a mental map of the landscape, noting where the depressions that will form rock pools are. It can do this with just one pass of an area! Then, from memory, it is able to leap from rock pool to rock pool.
The goby has a pea size brain, yet is able to accomplish this stunning feat.
I don’t know about you but the Frillfin Goby fills me with joy and wonder. It’s another reminder of the remarkable world in which we live.
The Frillfin Goby also teaches us to look for the remarkable in others.
Source: information about the Goby from Braithwaite, Do Fish Feel Pain?
Like most of us actress Angelina Jolie went through a period of defining her life.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald Jolie reflected that: “I do feel more centred now…Certainly, I was lost at times in my life. I’d like to think I was never a bad person, but I certainly went through times where I was not clear about who I was.”
According to Jolie it was seeing the world that changed her. “[There was a time] where I never had a sense of purpose, never felt useful as a person. I think a lot of people have that feeling – wanting to kill yourself or take drugs or numb yourself out because you can’t shut it off or you just feel bad and you don’t know what it’s from.”
Source: reported in Sydney Morning Herald 28/10/03
In the seventeenth century France a humanist scholar by the name of Muretus was an ailing fugitive. When he presented himself to the medical doctors he was dressed in the rags of a pauper. The doctors discussed his case in Latin, thinking he would not be able to understand them. “Faciamus experimentum in anima vili” one said, which means “Let us try an experiment with this worthless creature”. Imagine their shock when this pauper replied, also in Latin, “Vilem animam appellas pro qua Christus non dedignatus est mori?”, “Will you call worthless one for whom Christ did not disdain to die?”
Source: Reported in Charles Birch, Regaining Compassion (University of NSW Press, 1993)