Suffering and Rocks

On Sunday my son Freeboarder came upstairs telling us ‘you have to see this documentary,’ so we turned on the TV, and there on our screen was one of the saddest stories I’ve seen in a long time, a National Geographic documentary about a Chinese boy with a horrible facial tumor, billed as China’s Elephant Man. I guess they were trying to attract viewers, but the title seems wrong, antithetical to the spirit of the documentary, which was to tell the young man’s story with compassion. The family even states in the video that they never wanted their son to be a circus sideshow.

I was struck by the love and care he received from the villagers and his family, but I had a hard time watching the images. I ended up leaving the room after a few minutes. The next day when I took Freeboarder to the mountains for some outdoor bouldering, I kept seeing the young man’s face in all the outcroppings of sandstone. His misshapen mouth, the folds of his flesh, the way he had to support his skin and the tumors wrapped inside on the table as he sat to play cards.

9 thoughts on “Suffering and Rocks

  1. Michelle Johnson says:

    Heartwrenching. So young to endure life’s cruelties. I wish Huang all the luck with his operations. I hope he can accomplish everything in life he desires. I think documentaries are a great tool when used correctly but, sounds like National Geographic didn’t take this into consideration with that horrible title. Boundaries for which one will cross to get their name out there. He’s a child/ human for Christ sakes. Your pics are great. Have a nice day.

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  2. carolee says:

    i had a lot of time to think about this kind of thing when my mom was so sick (there were a few external manifestations of the cancer): if a person can handle this sort of thing, can’t i even witness? but it’s too difficult sometimes. looking away feels both like a weakness and a courtesy. it’s complicated.

    but what i got most from this post, christine, was that it turned a sort of noticing on in your brain. paying attention to something you hadn’t (necessarily) gravitated toward with such meaning.

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  3. christine says:

    Right, Carolee, I kept asking myself ‘why am I watching?’ I didn’t want to turn away, to ignore his suffering, or to be disgusted by the distortions of his face. At the rocks I kept thinking, ‘these same distortions are now beautiful… .’

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  4. Julie says:

    I didn’t see this documentary, but I’ve seen pictures in a magazine. It is heartbreaking how some people end up as outcasts because of physical problems. I love how you compare it to the rocks, which are very beautiful.

    When I lived in a different state, I volunteered for an organization that brought people with physical deformities to the US for operations. I didn’t do anything grand. Just a bit of grunt work. The owners of the organization were the brave ones and often flew into war torn areas to “smuggle” a person back to the US.

    It was an honor to meet the wonderful people who came for the operations. Not one of them complained. Not one. I complain endlessly when I have a headache. How fortunate I am to have that luxury.

    I’m not sure if it’s revulsion so much as human fear we all have. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow, and none of us is guaranteed a life free of illness or accidents. A person who can live with an illness like this must be a very strong and beautiful person. Could I be strong if it were me? Honestly, I don’t know, and I hope I never have to find out. The man you describe has my utmost respect. Thank you for posting this very important subject.

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  5. paisley says:

    TLC has a few shows on monday evenings i believe where they showcase amazing medical miracles.. i have seen several on people with outrageous tumors or other growths.. it is so sad,, and yet so empowering to know that these people still want to live,, still have hope.. are still loved… and it makes me put myself and my own problems in better perspective when i watch them…..

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