Merton conveys this truth: Individuals that are free to be “perfectly themselves” and “loved” are LOVED. I emphasize “perfectly” because often, individuals, families and societies are beholden to notions of good, bad, right, wrong, sick, healthy, better, worse, etc. While certain generalities may be drawn, when we encounter the complexity of human life, the designs of creation and their manifestations in all forms, loving well urges us to ease our hold on these notions, affirm the sanctity of all life, and make generous room for the desire to understand and appreciate differences.
In the documentary film I saw today based on Andrew Solomon’s book: Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, beautiful expressions of accepting and affirming differences are presented-as fraught as they may be at times as children and parents learn to step into the world of each other. For example, viewers are invited into the lives of “little people” who argue against the notion that dwarfism is a condition that needs to be “cured.” This calls to mind, Solomon, himself a gay man, who had his own challenges with family/societal norms and aspects of eccentricity and difference. Historically, homosexuality has been viewed as a “mental disorder” and was criminalized-as it is in some countries to present day. As the film demonstrates through the life stories of families experiencing dwarfism, homosexuality, autism, and Down syndrome, differences in mind, body and ways of being can find a more dignified understanding: The antithesis of “normal” can also share qualities of healthy, whole-and "normal" in some respects. The film nicely captures the struggles, ambivalence, confusions, acceptance and ultimate love in family life, portrayed through candor on the issues noted above as well as one with a more significant challenge in my view: Family life, parental and sibling love and engagement with their seventeen-year old son/brother convicted of murdering an eight year-old boy.
As family diversity-from minor to the more salient and dramatic differences-is often a reality of family life, we are invited in the microcosm structure of our family to learn to listen, expand our understanding, dignify and LOVE the individuals in our families that are perfectly themselves. This, in turn, extends outward.