I recently watched The Elephant Man for the first time. For those of you who don’t know, The Elephant Man is a movie based on the life of Joseph Merrick (mistakenly referred to as John Merrick). Joseph Merrick had elephantiasis, which was possibly caused by a genetic disorder called Proteus syndrome.
According to Wikipedia, “Elephantiasis is a symptom of a variety of diseases, where parts of a person’s body swell to massive proportions.” This caused Merrick to have deformities over most of his body.
I think the synopsis of the movie given by imdb.com is more than a little degrading to the person of Joseph Merrick.
“A Victorian surgeon rescues a heavily disfigured man who is mistreated while scraping a living as a side-show freak. Behind his monstrous facade, there is revealed a person of intelligence and sensitivity.”
The movie came out in 1980 but takes place at the end of the 19th century. A time period when the disabled were shut away and not part of society. So the description does show that perspective.
I think the movie was done very well even though it was slightly romanticized. Watching the movie you would think he never got angry at the way people treated him. He was in a “freak show” so people gawked and pointed.
In the movie he was still ridiculed and put on display by the security guards keeping the hospital secure. He was put on display in the name of science by the doctor who was supposed to be helping him. He had “visitors” come see him. Most of them either came out of curiosity or just so they could tell their high society friends how nice they were for visiting “the poor man.” That was how things were at the time.
Society has changed and things are better for a lot of disabled people. But some people still think we need to be rescued. That can come in the form of thinking we need cheered up, that we need perfect strangers to pray for our healing, and believe it or not some people still think we are disabled for some sin. Some are like the high society people and see us as a mission project.
Guess what, a lot of us have pretty happy lives. But at the same time we do have bad days just like anyone else. Our disability is not a curse from God. Most of us are just the way we are supposed to be, not broken. Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in the power of prayer but sometimes a miraculous healing isn’t God’s will.
For some of us it can be a little degrading when people, especially perfect strangers, constantly pray over us for a completely miraculous healing. I have had people pray that for me and been completely fine with it. When other people do it I feel like they see me as broken or abnormal.
I realize people don’t intend to make someone feel that way but it happens. I don’t really know what advice to give people on this except to remember that the person is a whole person. The disability is only a small part.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
The movie did a very good job of showing Joseph Merrick the man. At times he was shown a little one dimensional but as the movie progresses we see him as more of a multidimensional person.
It’s interesting that some of the people did really want to help him and get to know him, but he ended up changing them and helping them to see their own humanity.
The doctor who “rescued” him started to question whether or not he was any better than the people using Merrick for the freak show. The doctor gained notoriety because of Merrick. This happened as he began to see him as a person and not a diagnosis.
The nurses at the hospital didn’t want to be assigned to him. When he first arrived one of the nurses was told to give him fresh linens but not told about his condition. She sees Merrick and screams, running out of the room. How would you like to have that reaction from people looking at you? You have to remember that no one had ever seen someone with such extreme deformity. Eventually they started to like him as a person. The nurse in charge even confronted the doctor when she felt that Merrick was being exploited by him.
He was able to touch and inspire others. What are you doing to touch and inspire others?
Every single one of us has the ability to touch and/or inspire others. Sometimes it is sharing our story, it can be with one person or a whole crowd of people. Sometimes it is just a matter of taking the time to listen to someone. Get to know someone else. Let others get to know you. Each and every one of us has something to offer others.