Last night I saw a film that should be required viewing for everyone, everywhere.
It chronicles the lives of families whose children differ from their parents in some fundamental and immutable way, including those with Down syndrome, autism, and dwarfism. These families find love and joy in the aftermath of struggle and heartache. The film shows viewers the “normalcy” of those who live with differences; as all human beings do, they experience hopes, desires, disappointments, and triumphs.
The film, Far From the Tree, (now available on Hulu or for rent from Amazon), is based on the book of the same name by author Andrew Solomon. It also follows Solomon’s struggles within his own family as a gay man whose sexual orientation evolved from “illness” and shame to a sense of identity and pride. He wondered what other stigmas could be similarly transformed, and how families reconcile stark differences in abilities and identity with the expectation that their child’s life will unfold in their own image (poorly, it turns out, in Solomon’s own family, but transcendently in many others).
Solomon spent 10 years researching the book, and I strongly recommend it if you’re up for an exquisitely written 700-page tome filled with heartbreaking, complicated, and transformative stories. The film, directed by Rachel Dretzin, captures the essence of Solomon’s message with humor and emotion. Have your tissues ready!
Take-aways for parents of differently-abled children - and all children - include the importance of finding fellow travelers. Feeling like the “only one” of anything causes heartache, while joining with others walking a similar life path brings relief and joy.
Parents can also talk with their children about how people with differences want the same things everyone else wants, including love and respect. When others say something mean to them, it hurts. One man with dwarfism featured in the film, who uses a wheelchair, says someone once told him that he’d kill himself if he had the same challenges. This man has his PhD and works as a professor of philosophy; he’s married with children, and lives a full and happy life.
The one story featured in the film that didn’t quite fit focuses on a family whose son, out of the blue, committed a horrific crime and is now serving a life sentence without parole. Still, as the mother in this family says, “You don’t stop loving your child.”
Watch Far From the Tree, soon. You will come away committed to opening your heart, and your child’s, to those who live with differences.
Note: This is a movie for adults or older kids, not for preschoolers.