I read Far From the Tree a few years ago, hoping to find someone like me in its pages. I wished Andrew Solomon had included me in the more than 300 families he interviewed. If you haven’t read it, and I hope you do, he explores the perspectives of parents who deal with disabilities or differences: transgender, Down Syndrome, autism, dwarfism, children who committed heinous crimes, child prodigies, and others. I couldn’t find any family like mine in his book. Just the same, I wanted to get to know Andrew Solomon. I wanted to learn from an author who articulates human experience like he does. With wisdom and empathy, he exposes what it’s really like to be considered outside of “normal.” I put that in quotes, because I continue to question the full weight, and too often the harm, of that word.
The newly released movie, Far From the Tree, illustrates and expands the story. We follow several families and watch them evolve. This time the perspectives include not just those of the parents, but of the children and adult offspring.
We see how these families learn to connect, communicate, accept and even celebrate difference. Solomon, who talks about himself and his own family, makes a point of moving from love to acceptance. Yes, parents love their children, but can we accept them with all their differences? It took me a long time to recognize my own biases with my daughter and learn how to connect with her as she was. Acceptance starts at the family level, but Solomon’s and Dretzin’s message goes beyond the family unit.
We all need to see this movie now, more than ever, when we live in a world that fears differences and uses diversity to divide us. We have grown increasingly afraid of “Others,” and too often the automatic response is to mistreat, ignore, pity (ouch), ridicule (horrors), and ultimately, exclude.
Can watching a movie elicit empathy? I’m not sure. But maybe after seeing this movie, we can become a little more aware and a little less afraid of someone whose appearance is different than our own. We learn nothing from fear. As my daughter said to her high school classmates, who stared at her in her wheelchair, “Don’t be afraid to come up and say, ‘hi’.”
Sadly, few approached.
I highly recommend Solomon’s book, but I know 700-pages of nonfiction is a lot to ask. I hope you take the time to see the 93-minute film. Far From the Tree is available now OnDemand and in theaters. I’d like to hear what you think.