Have you ever wondered what it would look like if Bruno Mars’s voice married Rachel McAdams’ smile and they had baby who could dance like Justin Timberlake? I know, I wonder that, too. Like, all the time. I mean, it’s like piling perfection upon perfection upon perfection. .
But that begs the question…if there could be a Bruno McAdams “Happy Feet” Timberlake who possessed a full measure of beauty, charm, charisma, and talent, what would his/her doppelgänger look like? What I mean is this: what would it look like if you piled the ugliest parts of human nature into human form? Pain, violence, hatred, shame, anger, guilt, lust, pride: if all these things put together had a face, who – or what – would that look like?
The closest thing I can imagine is Joseph Merrick, otherwise known as the Elephant Man; a man so disturbingly ugly and deformed that the only possible reaction to seeing him would be shock, horror, maybe even becoming physically ill at the sight. We would point fingers. We would mock. We would hurl insults. We would steer clear. But a man like that would never be given a chance – jobs, relationships, friendship, nothing.
And yet, nestled in the narrative of Joseph Merrick’s life is the story of Mrs. Leila Maturin, a young woman who, knowing that Merrick had never had the opportunity to speak with a woman face to face, agreed to meet him in the hospital. Merrick was apparently so overcome with emotion at the kindness and grace shown to him by this young lady that the meeting was cut short. The profundity of that moment, however, instilled in him a new sense of life and confidence in himself: the kind of confidence that allows a man to see value in himself and to live another day.
That, I think, is what grace looks like.
It’s easy to love the beautiful things of this world. It’s harder to love the broken. It’s near impossible to love the unlovable. Yet that’s exactly what Jesus calls us to do.
A few years ago, Jeremy Cowart, world-renowned photographer, artist, and hope-instiller, created a project called Deep Dark Blackness for People of the Second Chance that tried to capture this concept of radical grace. His piece was a reminder that what this world needs most is people who are willing to hold hands with those whose hands seem un-holdable. Check it out, if you're willing. Live it out, if you're daring.