On Sunday my son Freeboarder came upstairs telling us ‘you have to see this documentary,’ so we turned on the TV, and there on our screen was one of the saddest stories I’ve seen in a long time, a National Geographic documentary about a Chinese boy with a horrible facial tumor, billed as China’s Elephant Man. I guess they were trying to attract viewers, but the title seems wrong, antithetical to the spirit of the documentary, which was to tell the young man’s story with compassion. The family even states in the video that they never wanted their son to be a circus sideshow.
I was struck by the love and care he received from the villagers and his family, but I had a hard time watching the images. I ended up leaving the room after a few minutes. The next day when I took Freeboarder to the mountains for some outdoor bouldering, I kept seeing the young man’s face in all the outcroppings of sandstone. His misshapen mouth, the folds of his flesh, the way he had to support his skin and the tumors wrapped inside on the table as he sat to play cards.