Wednesday, 26 September 2012

An Experience That Changed Me: An Essay by Audrey Kantrowitz

There are many people in the world who deserve the title of “hero”, or some other magnanimous title that shows that they are loved and admired. They write eye-opening books, like author Victor Hugo, who saved the life of a neglected cathedral. They make speeches, like Martin Luther King Jr., who stirred a generation to break Jim Crow's oppressive chains. They win battles like William Wallace, who fought with passion for his holy Scotland, and dealt those who would take it away with a swipe of his mighty claymore.

These three men have earned their colors. They are heroes in their own way, and still receive recognition for their great works. Yet the soul who has firmly staked a claim in my heart did none of the deeds listed above. He did not need to bear the burden of any of those virtues.

His name was Joseph Carey Merrick, but came to fame under the auspicious moniker “The Elephant Man”. Since I was thirteen years old, I devoted myself to learning as much as I could about this strange, yet beautiful human being, and now he is a solid part of my life. Through his dignified manner and unflinching kindness, he showed me how to be a better person.

Some time ago, I was given the greatest honor I could ever have imagined. I was at last allowed to meet Joseph Merrick in person. I was in rapture. I was about to do something I had dreamed of since my tender Middle School years. Not only was I allowed to sketch my muse and hero, I had been permitted to tell him how much he means to me. Sadly, the only visitors he receives anymore are doctors and medical students. His twisted, disordered skeleton stands in a glass case, along with plaster molds of his head, arms, and foot. To think Merrick's unfortunate facade once made men recoil in disgust and women faint. For me, there is nothing at all ugly about him. I imagine this is due to my artistic need to draw and paint him, making me immune to whatever trivial horror there was to his appearance. As I sat before him that day, immortalizing his image in my sketchbook, I looked up into those lifeless holes where such piercing brown eyes used to be. Hot tears ran down my cheeks as I spoke to him.

“There are people who still love you,” I kept repeating. “You will always be remembered.”

Though I have shed my sadness for Joseph Merrick, little did I realize how much my little visit would cost me. It has been two years since I stood face to face with my hero. Two years since I told him what was in my heart. Before my visit, I felt that only his image had been tattooed on my brain, yet now I feel that his pain and sorrow are now there as well. David Lynch's film “The Elephant Man” is one of my favorite movies. In the past, I felt no anguish while watching it, especially during the ending with that soul-crushing music written by Samuel Barber. To me, it was just actor John Hurt who was lying down to die. Yet now, when I watch that scene, I see only Joseph. I see the agony of a disordered body that imprisoned the soul of a gentle, kindly, and intelligent man. It brings me right back to that day where I looked into those hollow sockets and told him that there are people who are still moved by his shining example of goodness. I only wish I could have met him in the flesh, but I believe that, in a way, he knows. God bless you, Joseph Merrick. You shall always be loved.