Gabe enjoyed his camp again this summer, although he prefers 1st session to 2nd session, and even though he doesn't have the kind of roots at the place that Danny Miller's nephew (Gabe's cabin-mate) has.
I went to a camp where you lived in the woods, hiked and canoed your little butt off and saw as little of civilization as possible. That's one way you could tell it was a camp for rich, non-Jewish kids. Gabe goes to a camp for Jewish kids, so, they do things like go to ball games and state fairs.
On the camp trip to the Wisconsin State Fair, Gabe was astonished and a little horrified by an exhibit (not the one pictured here; that's from Coney Island) claiming to reveal the "World's Smallest Woman."
I didn't know they did that kind of crap to people anymore. Much less at a state fair.
Gabe gazed through a viewing screen and saw "Little Linda," who he described as a very short, plump, African American woman, holding her cell phone with both hands, texting away. He said her cell phone looked as big as a car windshield next to her.
So we were interested to read today about the death of the woman listed as the world's tallest. At 7 feet, 7 inches, Sandy Allen used her height to help kids learn to accept people who were different. It's interesting to me that a school will have in a very tall person to help kids accept those who are different; and that camps will then take those same kids to fairs where people who are physically different are put on display. Gabe's school goes out of its way to mainstream kids with mental and learning disabilities, but kids are kids, and camps are camps, and I guess that's human nature.
I was just plain short until halfway through high school. Not brutally short, not state-fair-short, but short. Girls said I was "cute," the way their little brothers might be. I longed not to be different that way. My parents, brother and I lived in Mexico during what would have been my 7th grade year. When I came back and saw my friend and next-door neighbor, who had grown about three inches since I'd last seen him, he did a j'accuse point at me and howled: "You're still short!"
When you're a kid you want so badly not to be different -- unless it's a good kind of different. Any good kind of different can be taken to extremes, though, and then it's not a good thing. Maybe being permitted to stare at someone once in a while isn't a terrible thing. After all, Little Linda wasn't chained to her little sofa. She was making a living. It was a transaction.
But still: it ain't right. If you're staring at a person whose statue is radically Other, then you're doing the same to everyone around you who stands out in some way, aren't you? And aren't you fascinated and horrified by any aspect of your self that's very different?
There's only one thing to do: liberate Little Linda.
I'm only partly kidding. Seriously: how can we truly be said to be compassionate towards the differences in ourselves and others if we're staring at people who are different? How can we follow the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves (or the one to welcome the stranger into our midst, take your pick) if we're paying to basically make fun of them?
Gabe is no saint. He said he saw Little Linda and ran from the booth so he wouldn't hear him laughing. At least he ran from the booth, I guess.
But he agreed to be the first member of the Little Linda Liberation Organization.
Won't you join us?
UPDATE: Per my Mom's comment below, here's a link to a story the late Ed Bradley did for 60 Minutes. It's about Thomas Quasthoff, one of the finest operating singers of his generation, which is even more amazing when you consider he was born tiny and with no arms, as a result of his mother's use of Thalidomide while pregnant with Thomas. His expressiveness while singing is legendary, and there's a great lesson in his joy, and great joy in the lessons he's learned.