THE BLOOMS OF FRIENDSHIP
John Merrick, the so-called “Elephant Man,” was born in 1862 with a rare genetic disorder that racked his body with abnormal crippling growths. Carnival bankers who were eager to make money off Merrick’s plight exhibited him to the public for years, until Dr. Frederick Treves entered his life.
Under the London surgeon’s guardianship, Merrick developed a great love for reading, the theater, and above all, the company of good friends. Merrick spent his final years in the care of people who saw past his appearance.
Years after Merrick and Treves passed on, their friendship inspired both a Broadway play and a movie. The late anthropologist Dr. Ashley Montagu saw their story as a great triumph of the human spirit. He chronicled their relationship in his book The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity (E.P. Dutton).
“What is the moral of this story, if it has one?” asks Montagu. “It is that the influence of a really good person lives on in the benefits he confers upon others, that influence never really fades, and that courage and integrity are among the supreme virtues of humanity, outlasting even death itself.”
Wisely, Montagu doesn’t say whether it was Merrick or Treves who gained the most from their relationship. For, in the end, they helped each other become better people.
Friendships are to be celebrated and valued.