Carolyn Martino was born with a congenital hemangioma, port wine stain variety, a large birthmark on her right cheek. Growing up, she suffered, as she puts it, “the slings and arrows of being born and having to deal with the cruelty and shame that comes with being so obviously different.”
This Examiner had the privilege and honor to hear Carolyn tell the story of her own healing journey for an enthralled audience of professionals and lay persons with a common interest in mentoring youth. “This is my journey,” Carolyn told the audience. “My wonderful, difficult, tragic, comic, arduous, journey that has led me from feelings of inferiority to a true appreciation of my own uniqueness — and I want to share it with you.”
“I recently saw the movie, Music Within,” Carolyn began. “The title comes from a quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes:
A few can touch the magic string, and noisy fame is proud to win them:
Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them!
The movie is based on the true story of Richard Pimentel, a man who played a pivotal role in creating theAmericans with Disabilities Act. Deafened by a bomb blast in Vietnam, Richard returns home to discover his life’s calling: helping others with disabilities, including his fellow veterans. Along with his best friend, Art Honneyman, wheel-chair bound with cerebral palsy and almost undecipherable speech — Richard calls him “the smartest and funniest man I have ever known.” Richard fights for the rights of those whose voices can’t always be heard.
In one harrowing scene, Richard takes Art to an all-night restaurant for pancakes to celebrate his birthday. After his tortuous struggle to get the wheel chair up a flight of stairs, the waitress refuses to serve them, calling Art “the ugliest, most disgusting thing” she has ever seen. “People like you,” she says, “should have been killed at birth.” When they refuse to leave, the police arrest them under the “Ugly Law,” a statute that prohibited public appearances of people who were “unsightly.”
It’s like the joke Abraham Lincoln used to tell about himself. While riding in the woods one day, he stopped to let a woman, also on horseback, cross the path. She stopped, horrified, and said, “I do believe you are the ugliest man I ever saw.” “Madam,” he replied, “you are probably right, but I can’t help it!” “No,” said she, “you can’t help it, but you might at least have the decency to stay at home!”
Richard Pimentel’s mission was not so much about changing others’ perceptions of people with disabilities as it was about altering their own perceptions of themselves. And in helping others discover their hidden music, Richard discovered his own.”
“My own journey,” Carolyn told her audience, “is in two acts. Back in 1990, living in New York City, before I even heard of storytelling, I was moved by the intimate nature of performance art to write the first act. I was learning to speak from a place of deeper connection with my real self. I thought people might be interested in hearing about my childhood with a birthmark, my decision as a teenager to wear a thick make-up to cover it up, and how the more the makeup hid my birthmark to others, the more exposed to me was my inner scarring.”
Carolyn was correct, we were interested.
“It has taken me over twenty years to write – to live – the second act,” she told us. “There are many needs for art, and perhaps the greatest is to mirror our own lives. Growing up different, you never see yourself reflected in the media, and you begin to feel that something truly is wrong. Invisible, a ghost nobody — not even yourself — talks about, there’s a profound sense of isolation. I’ve learned that when we are allowed to talk about our differentness, we prove our existence; we discover our own humanity.”
Carolyn’s performance, at a recent conference sponsored by Mass Mentoring Partnership, was heart-rending at times, humorous at others, yet inspirational and riveting throughout. Afterwards, she was surrounded by a number of her listeners who passionately shared their feelings and experiences elicited by her presentation and how it would influence their mentoring youth with disabilities. Many of us agreed that we gained a greater insight and sensitivity into the internal struggles and self-limiting beliefs, not only of ourselves, but also of people we know who for one reason or another feel out of the mainstream, isolated and alone, and who find it difficult to talk about their feelings.
Thank you, Carolyn Martino, for inspiring us by sharing your journey to overcome adversity.