This holiday season, I had the opportunity to see the story of two brilliant men told on the big screen. I saw the story of Stephen Hawking, as told in the movie “The Theory of Everything” and the story of Alan Turing, as told in the movie “The Imitation Game”.
I was struck by some of the interesting parallels between the stories of these men. Both men, for instance, were driven by a quest to find a unified system that would help make sense of the world. Hawking sought to do this through the development of a unified scientific theory that explained the origin of the universe. Turing sought to do this through the development of a machine that could more efficiently process information. The machine he developed laid the groundwork for what we know of today as “computers”.
There was another similarity between the men that I found fascinating as well. Each man faced a unique challenge that took him outside of “the norm”. Hawking developed what is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease (or ALS); Turing was gay.
While both men clearly had minds that would have been considered exceptional regardless of their circumstance, I couldn’t help but wonder what role their challenging life circumstance played in the way their intelligence was expressed.
In a powerful scene near the end of “The Imitation Game”, one of Turing’s colleagues made the following observation in response to Turing’s statement of regret that he hadn’t been “normal.
“If you wish you could have been ‘normal’, I can promise you, I do not. The world is an infinitely better place precisely because you weren’t.”
I love that line because it affirms something I have long believed about myself. For years I have believed that one of the greatest gifts God gave me was the gift of my same-sex orientation.
“You consider that a GIFT?” some might say. “Didn’t that so-called gift make your life infinitely more difficult?!”
While I can’t say my orientation has made my life EASIER, I can say it has made my life a million times richer. For you see, as a person who was born as a white, middle class male into a society when white, middle class males were at the apex of social power and privilege – I do not believe I would have understood the challenges faced by those who were NOT white, middle class males. I may not, for instance, have had a sense of the challenges faced by women (sexism), people of color (racism), the differently abled (ableism), the poor (classicism), or older folks (ageism). I MIGHT have floated through life oblivious to those things that contributed to MY privilege and their marginalization.
Please note here that I say MIGHT – because there are many, many, many white, middle class, heterosexual men who in fact HAVE come to understand the injustices perpetuated on those who are not white, middle class, heterosexual men and have been powerful allies in movements for social justice.
My firsthand experience of life outside “the norm” opened my eyes to social dynamics that I personally might have missed. I wouldn’t want to have missed those insights for anything. That is why I am so grateful for the blessing of being born outside “the norm”.
As we start the New Year, I would invite you to look over your own life. Is there a part of your life where you are outside the norm? An area, perhaps, that has caused you to beat yourself up over?
If so, I would encourage to change your thinking this year. I would invite you to look at the blessings that have come into your life – not in spite of this difference – but rather BECAUSE of it.
See you next time…