If You Always Do What You've Always Done...Then You'll Always Get What You Always Got

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Movie #20 - Temple Grandin

This is the biopic of Temple Grandin, a woman who has revolutionised the way we deal with cattle, is one of the top scientists in the humane livestock handling industry, and is autistic.  Born in the late 1940s, watching the movie of her life was also a look at how autism was seen in the second half of the century.  In 1981, Temple amazed an autism convention by being a functioning, high-achieving person.  She gave various reasons, credit to her mother and her schools.

Dear Eustacia (aka Temple's mother),
Thank you for having the inner strength and belief to follow your heart in raising your child.  I can see how much patience was required to make her speak, to make her go to school, to make her a part of the world, to force her out of her comfort zones.  So much patience, and so much love.  And doing so without being able to follow the mother instincts of hugging your child.  How hard to leave any child at a boarding school, let alone one who is so obviously different, such a magnet for bullying, and know that you can't hug them goodbye.  I wept when I saw Temple allow you to hug her after Dr Carlock's funeral.   So, not just patience, perseverance, and love, but also self-sacrifice and that wonderful message for your daughter: different, but not less.

Dear Ann (aka Temple's aunt),
What a great gift you gave both Temple and Eustacia.  To give Eustacia some time off, some relief from the intensive full-time job of being the mother of an autistic child.  To give Temple a new environment that was at first different and challenging and a stretch of her comfort zone, but with love and understanding.  And to introduce Temple to cattle.  The smallest actions can have such far-reaching consequences!

Dear Dr Carlock (aka the wonderful science teacher), and all teachers,
None of you is 'just' a teacher.  You have such influence in the lives of your students.  I know (believe me, I know!) that it can be disheartening when students seem not to learn anything, or have little or no enthusiasm for what you are trying to teach them.  And not everyone will have a talent for everything (how boring would that world be?!).  But if you can foster an inquisitive mind, a discipline and a perseverance, your work is not wasted.  If you have the insight to help just one student see the world anew, to recognise their potential in a particular area, you have really made a difference in their life.  If, like Dr Carlock, you can recognise that one of your students sees the world through pictures; and you discover that she can remember everything she sees; and set her a small challenge of perception that she can eventually conquer; then you might just have helped a child on her way to a PhD and changing the world. 

Dear Blind Girl (aka Temple's second roommate),
What a wonderful friend you are.  What a perfect roommate.  So calm, so gentle, so accepting, so parallel in being another sort of different, but not less.  And although visually impaired, such clear inner vision, able to see how people are feeling through their voice, able to perceive what's really going on without visual distraction.  Such a good match for someone who also sees the world differently from the way most people see it. 

Dear actors and writers and directors and producers of this biopic,
Well done.  I laughed and I cried and I was indignant and I was impressed.  I was super-impressed with Claire Danes' portrayal of Temple.  I could see her name on the cover, and on imdb, but I only recognised her in maybe 3 moments, when Temple/Claire lit up with utter delight.  I'm sure everyone who saw Temple at those corresponding moments would not have been able to be anything other than delighted also, it was overwhelming.

Dear Temple,
Thank you for allowing this movie of your life to be made.  I am so impressed with your determination to do what you believe is right, no matter how challenging that is for you.  I am not sure I would have the strength to do what you have done, to open those doors and step through.  And your explanations of how your brain works - so clear and concise and helpful.  Not conjecture, but reality.  And the pictures in the movie, so much of them in black and white.  That visual representation of what you hear - well, I get that too, although not to such a great extent.  Your mental image of 'animal husbandry' was remarkably similar to mine, I laughed with delight that someone else saw it that way too. 
Thank you for your insistence on the squeeze machine.  What a wonderful gift to future generations of autistic children and their families.  And thank you for your belief that we should be humane in our treatment of cattle.  Just that word has such connotations of mistreatment, yet as you say they are only here because we eat them so why should we mistreat them?  Seeing them as living beings with heartbeats and emotions is something we often miss.  Taking the time to actually see them, see what they see, see what they feel, feel for them, be kinder to them. 
And although you may never be able to read what people say with their eyes, your eyes see in ways most people cannot imagine, and we have a better world thanks to you.

Dear Fellow Inhabitants of the World,
What we do matters.  When we allow someone to sit next to us at a desk, smile with them, listen to them, help them through a door, watch TV with them, talk with them, really see them, we accept them, and this matters.  Never underestimate the power of your actions or your words.

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