While looking for something to watch last week, I encountered Andrew Solomon’s remarkable documentary, Far from the Tree. Based on his bestselling book of the same name, this moving film is a sacred exploration of the infinite dimensions of humanity.
In it, Solomon tells the stories of families with a child who is clearly and dramatically “different” – in this case, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, the searing story of a teenage boy who commits murder, and Solomon’s own journey as a gay man.
By allowing us to listen to these parents and their children – many of them now adults – the film drives home the many ways that those who consider themselves “the norm” miss opportunities to connect to others. But to make matters worse – and what hit me hardest in this film – is the simple truth that, in our need to define who is “normal,” we dehumanize, exclude, and actively harm those who we’ve decided do not merit belonging.
Ours are more than sins of omission – in this case, a missed opportunity to connect. They are sins of commission – denying our neighbor’s very personhood.
As Episcopal schools, we seek to affirm the humanity of each person, to make everyone feel that they belong. We want to be places where people truly connect. But we need people like Andrew Solomon to ask us to take a closer look at our culpability for the harm we incur when we fail – and how to make amends.
For Far from the Tree is also a film of profound transformation, possibility, and hope. Each person in the film – parent or child – changes and is changed. Journeying through sorrow, disappointment, anger, and hurt, they also discover profound acceptance, love, and connection. Their stories reveal just how difficult it is, this journey into shared humanity. They also demonstrate that it is a journey we must be willing to take.