I finally went to see “The Greatest Showman” after high marks from my friends. I was not disappointed. I might have appreciated a warning, however, that it would definitely make me cry.
If you haven’t seen it and don’t want any spoilers, come back to this column after you’ve watched this amazing musical.
In the movie, P.T. Barnum, in an attempt to coax people into his museum, begins to hire people who were “outcasts” — often because of disabilities or medical conditions causing them to look different from most people. These people were either ignored and shunned or mocked and denigrated by society at the time because they were noticeably different. One of Barnum’s first hires is Lettie Lutz, played by Keala Settle.
In the movie, Lettie, an outcast because of an abundance of facial hair, stands up for the other outcasts in Barnum’s show and belts out the movie’s anthem, “This Is Me.”
The first verse is:
I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
’Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
The chorus contains the power:
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me.
Talk about speaking your truth!
Later in the movie, Lettie tells Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman, that he made the troupe feel like equals, like they had value, when even their own mothers had rejected them. That was the spot that really hit me and made me reflect on some of our adoption journeys.
In early 1991, I found myself in Romania, adopting two little girls. I met a woman trying to adopt a child with a cleft lip and palate. Over and over she was told, “We don’t have any of ‘those’ in this country.” Eventually, one orphanage took her to a room on a top floor, hidden away from even most orphanage workers, and there she found her son, with a cleft lip. People were stunned she would adopt such a damaged child.
Under communist rule, the country’s leaders had convinced the nation that they had a “perfect race,” with no disabled among them. Romanian law prohibited children with handicaps from being seen in public, from attending school or from receiving medical treatment. Some of the documentaries from that time detail the horrific treatment and abuse rained down on those with disabilities.
I met two of the heroes of my life during that time — Al and Barbara Price. In Romania as LDS Humanitarian missionaries, the Prices were instrumental in holding the first ever “Special Olympics” in June that year. Support (and pressure) from the international community aided in making that sports day a success. More than 500 children came, some of whom had never even seen grass before, and changed the hearts of many. Within two short weeks, laws were passed to permit children with disabilities to attend school and receive medical treatment. The Prices have a special place in my heart — and in heaven — for their incredible service to those in need. (That service runs in the family, by the way. Their daughter is Rep. Becky Edwards, who serves in the Utah Legislature.)
Fast-forward seven years and I was in Russia adopting two more toddlers. One was a 19-month-old girl missing two fingers on each hand and three toes on each foot. She was abandoned at birth because of her “imperfections.” She was shunned at the orphanage as well. One orphanage worker shook that baby’s hand in the air and wanted to know why I was adopting a “bad baby.” “This is a bad baby. There are lots of good babies. Why do you want a bad baby?” Of course, that made me want to adopt her all the more. She’s now 21, works full time, attends the University of Utah full time, is smart as a whip and drop-dead gorgeous. But you know. She was a bad baby.
Another one of my children, a son, was adopted from Kazakhstan, where he had been “warehoused.” At age 3 and diagnosed with arthrogryposis, an orthopedic condition, he was left for hours and hours completely alone in a crib. When we adopted him, he was completely nonverbal and largely nonmobile. Those conditions were not expected to change. They did. He’s quite the talker, and although he needs a wheelchair for long distances, he can and does walk most places. He is also a high-school graduate and, as of Jan. 1, he is a youth service missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving in the Family History Library in Riverton for 24 months. We are delighted he has this opportunity and grateful the LDS Church is making a sincere effort to find ways that those with disabilities can serve. It hasn’t always been that way.
My kids don’t let anyone “break them down to dust.” They are “bursting through the barricades and reaching for the sun.” They are warriors. And they are glorious.
Holly Richardson knows it’s a fictionalized account and still believes the message of the movie is fantastic.