Friday, March 03, 2006

Norman & His Friends

Last night I went to see my son in “The Boys Next Door” – a play by Tom Griffin about a group home of mentally handicapped adult men.


I know you’d expect that response from a proud dad – but for most of the play I forgot that he was my son. I was captivated by this disturbing, yet tender story of marginalized people we’d rather not know about, yet live in all of our communities.

Norman, Lucien, Arnold, Barry, Sheila, & Clara were characters in the play with varying degrees of mental challenge that spoke truth into the lives of those watching.

I was reminded of a time that we lived next to a group home. Many times when friends came over, jokes were made about the “hockey team” living next door. This was supposed to be a funny reference to the helmets they wore when riding the bus to their “jobs” at the center.

I was reminded that we are pretty quick to make fun of things that make us uncomfortable. Laughing at those things is somehow supposed to make us feel better about ourselves.

On my flight home (the play was in LA, I live in Portland), I sat across from a mentally handicapped woman. Isn’t it interesting that I would have that as my first “public” experience after seeing this show. I watched people avoid her. I watched her trying to navigate in a world that so often doesn’t make sense. And while people were generally helpful, they became frustrated pretty quickly too.

Several months ago, I had the incredible honor of baptizing a friend of mine. Paul is a 14 year old boy with Downs Syndrome. He loves Jesus and understood His command to be baptized, so we did it. In his interview, he talked about his love for Jesus and for people. He told me that he prays for people. I asked him what kinds of things he prays for. He said that he prays that he can understand them. How odd. Here we were in a room full of “normal” people, and Paul (who we struggled to understand) nails us by letting us see that he has a better grasp of the faith than most of us… and he prays for us. Incredible.

Last night, the “boys next door” gave me a sobering reminder that what we all think of as “normal” is nothing but a pretty thin façade. And none of us… none of us, is further than an accidental fall, an unexplained illness, or some quirky gene mix-up away from "abnormal" ourselves.

Thank you Norman, Lucien, Arnold, Barry, Sheila, & Clara for helping me see this in a fresh way. And thank you, Andy, for letting Norman speak through you.

In gratitude,

A proud dad



Dallas Lange said...

"Interesting" timing on the plane ride. That's such a powerful lesson. I know the tendancy to use humor to cover our uncomfortableness. Thanks for the reminder to stay humble. We have a habit of placing our confidence in those things that are the most fragile...our bodies.

Jon Hay said...

Hey Dean,
Just wanted to let you know I am enjoying your blog. Keep the thoughts coming.