Thursday, May 7, 2009

Humanity is only skin deep

She was once a pretty lady. Pretty, that is, until her husband pointed a shotgun at her face and blew half of it off. Then, for five years, Connie Culp looked like something out of a nightmare. She still had a face, it's true, but in the middle was a long, horizontal scar that puckered the skin from top and bottom. No nose. No upper jaw. No cheekbones.

Because of the injury, Connie could not speak, eat, or breathe on her own. She was kept alive by tube feedings and a ventilator attachment to her trachea. Going out in public was an ordeal. Children cried when they saw her. Somehow, she survived.

Then, someone else died, and that person's family was brave enough to donate their loved one's face so that Connie could have one again. Now, Connie has a nose, an upper jaw, and cheekbones. She can talk. She can eat. She can smell and taste. While she does look odd, she can go out in public without frightening people.

I wonder how many of us could have managed as well as she has. Not many, and I doubt they would include me. When Connie speaks, she sounds hopeful. She sounds thankful. She doesn't sound bitter, and I imagine she has every right to.

We do, after all, live in a lookist society. Those who aren't paragons of attractiveness can find themselves dismissed and discounted. Even so, our society is so healthy we rarely see people with the kind of overwhelming injury Connie sustained. We don't know how to behave towards them, so often enough, we ignore them completely.

It seems to me, all too often, that our own humanity is determined by just how alike to us our fellow human is. In our minds, "normal" equals "human". We can tolerate only a narrow range of normal, though some of us fight to include more and more in that designation. People too far outside that range - because of their looks, their weight, the color of their skin, or any other characteristic - find themselves relegated to the category of "not human".

Through no fault of her own, Connie Culp was kicked into the Not Human category. Now she's been returned to full human status. I only wish we could have kept her in the right category the whole time she dealt with her injuries.

Oh, and her husband was sentences to seven years in prison for his attack on her.

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