They say Hollywood keeps making the same movies over and over again. See if this plot sounds familiar: a (world-weary) (well-intentioned) (jaded) (down-to-earth) main character encounters someone with multiple strikes against him: low intelligence, destitution, familial abandonment, mental illness, etc. Do-gooder sets out to help poor unfortunate soul and instead finds him/herself changed forever.
My formula isn’t perfect, but you get the gist. The Cellist. Forrest Gump. A Beautiful Mind. Rain Man. And now, The Blind Side.
We heard great things about this movie, and it delivered. It’s funny, heart-warming, inspiring. Midway through the book comes a scene where Sandra Bullock’s character is sitting with her rich friends, who are condescending to her about taking a black teenager from the wrong side of town into her home. She calls them down, and they try to re-ingratiate themselves by saying, “You’re changing that boy’s life.” And she says, “No, he’s changing mine.”
This is a stock moment, more self-aware than most, but those words struck me hard. Because I am one of those people whose life has been changed by “the least of these.” My story isn’t dramatic. I’m just a mom who never thought she’d have a child with special needs. Nobody’s going to make a movie out of me. (Thank God.) But I would imagine that all of us who have found ourselves confronted by the reality of Down’s, autism, cerebral palsy, etc., would identify with that statement: No, he’s changing mine. For the better. Despite what you think about my child’s intrinsic worth.
I guess what gets me about this is that even Hollywood, which is notorious for its unrealistic expectations for appearance, recognizes that value is found in the people who make us most uncomfortable. We eat it up, shower awards on the movies (Rain Man won 4 Oscars, for instance). But then we go home and act like we’ve never even noticed the underlying message: that there is value in moving outside your comfort zone and getting to know the “least of these.” We go on condescending and sticking kids into categories and letting our eyes glaze over adults in wheelchairs at church so we don’t have to say hello to them, because it would make us uncomfortable if we couldn’t understand what they were saying. And doctors go to their clinics and teachers to their med school classrooms, and they indoctrinate a whole new generation that Down syndrome is this Scary Bad thing, without any possible up side, and solidify the aborting of an entire class of people, out of sheer ignorance of the simple truth that movies like The Blind Side and Rain Man have attempted to portray:
Every human life has worth. Every human life sends ripples out to the lives around it, even—perhaps especially—when they are perceived as weaker or “less than.” And when we belittle the least of these, we belittle ourselves.