Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: The Short End of the Stick( 02/20/14)
By Toni Hammer
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This condition comes saddled with its share of difficulties. My vision without glasses is 20/400—twenty times worse than that of someone born with the standard 20/20. Even with glasses my vision is around 20/40. I’ll never see “perfectly.” Everything from street signs to subtitles is a challenge.
I can’t drive. Oh, many states say I can with a restricted license, but I don’t belong behind the wheel. I would be putting myself, my passengers, and anyone on the road in danger. Therefore, if I’m to get anywhere, I’m left asking for rides, taking public transportation, or walking regardless of the weather.
I am physically unable to tan. While this sounds shallow, I grew up in a California beach town. Trust me—it was a problem. Being stark white in a land of golden bodies was asking for mockery. The sun doesn’t scorch my skin on contact, but I should wear sunscreen exponentially more often than the average person. Annual checkups and eye exams are always heavy with warnings of skin cancer and worsening vision as though I haven’t heard these speeches since birth.
I wish the physical complications were my only concern. Sadly we inhabit a society where differences breed divisiveness.
Kids are cruel. We need only look at the treatment of Joseph by his brothers to see that this has been true since the beginning. While children can create heartless comments from nothing, my intensely pale skin and blonder than blond hair made me an easy target for nasty names. Though some insipid remarks failed to make sense—I’ll never understand the creative genius behind “mayonnaise”—the underlying sentiment was loud and clear: I was different and not worthy of positive attention from my classmates.
The negative association attached to albinism doesn’t end on the playground. There are a multitude of albino characters in the arts industry portrayed in an odious light. The movie Powder was released in 1998 when I was in junior high. The protagonist is born with albinism and, due to this strange characteristic, discovers he can conduct electricity through his body. Because of his albinism, he is abandoned by his father, kept in a basement by his grandparents, and treated atrociously by his peers. The movie’s climax shows him as a teenager using his electricity ability to kill himself because the main lesson he learned in his short life is that he is a freak who doesn’t belong in society. Had I a quarter for every time a fellow student asked if I had “special powers” because I was albino my kids’ college funds would be fully loaded.
Another notorious albino is Silas in the critically acclaimed book and film The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Silas, a loathsome character who literally beats himself into submission, is a murderous monk bent on ensuring secrets of the faith are not revealed. He is a villain. He would be a villain without having albinism, but both Dan Brown, and later Director Ron Howard, chose to depict him as an albino despite numerous requests asking them to remove this attribute from the character as it is completely unnecessary. The book and film’s release let loose another deluge of inane comments regarding my albinism.
Looking back, my younger years were better than most, but as a sad child who was picked on again and again for something she could not control, that truth was drowned in tears. Why did the Lord create me this way? Only He knows. However, I do know I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14 NIV). I believe the Bible is complete truth and, therefore, I believe that verse despite my childhood experiences and the art world’s portrayal of my genetic alteration.
Over time, I’ve learned there are positive side effects to my condition. I have a greater compassion for others who were given the short end of the stick after exiting the womb because, on some level, I can sympathize. I also possess an inner strength which chooses to rise above the ignorance and instead cultivate qualities of the heart—love, grace, kindness—rather than be downtrodden.
With all its physical and social maladies, I would never wish albinism on anyone. However, I do have it, it’s who I am, and at least I never have to worry about tan lines.
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