Kim Peek

I’ve been interested lately in finding the most simple of points to make about being human, points that might help all of us to share God’s love and mercy more fully with one another. In that vein, I’ve become mildly intrigued by the story of Kim Peek, the “real-life Rain Man” who (along with other autistics and savants) inspired the Cruise/Hoffman movie. As it turns out, Mr. Peek is far more of a savant, and far less capable of taking care of himself, than Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt. If you have a few minutes, perform a web search for Mr. Peek’s story, or check out a decent five-part video of him over at YouTube.

I’ll just mention a few things about Mr. Peek’s abilities, as I recall having read: He has memorized the content of between seven and eight thousand books; if you name two cities in the United States, he can give you driving directions, complete with ZIP codes; he has memorized countless facts regarding a wide variety of subjects; and much, much more. My personal favorite is that he can listen to a symphony once, and from then on recall the full musical score for each of the symphony’s instruments. Yet, he cannot dress himself and he requires 24/7 care for the more “normal” of human activities.

I was watching a documentary which included Mr. Peek, and it was during the show that some of my earlier thinking about people really solidified. I have a very simple point, one that most of us have probably thought of many times before, but I’m unconvinced that many of us apply it in our daily living: We are all different. The spin that the stories of savants puts into the point is that those stories help us to imagine—sort of—the incredible complexity of the brain and mind. Given that the brain and mind are so complex, doesn’t it stand to reason that there is an infinite diversity of human abilities, traits, strengths, weaknesses, and quirks and, most importantly, this is just the way it is—the way we are? I understand that statistically speaking there are people who fall into certain portions of a mathematical distribution, and we call the larger portions, those with the most area under a curve, “normal.” And sure, we have a lot of similarities because we are all human beings, we share a whole lot of genetic material, we share a lot of biochemistry, and because we are socialized in various groups. But there are differences, too, and there will always be differences. So, why do we spend so much time expecting other people to act a certain way, think a certain way, be good at certain things, and so forth? This is a simple point, but it is not a trivial point. We each have our own traits, and this is the way it is. So why do we complain about the differences, and what’s worse, why do we expect people to be able to simply change traits (or throw away traits) that we don’t like? “Oh well,” people will say, “People like Kim Peek have obvious problems, and that makes them unique. We don’t expect them to adjust; they can’t. But, you know, normal people can and should simply adjust and fit in.” But this is my point. If we can step back for a few moments, and throw away our black/white filters, and place everyone on a continuum, we will see that all of the line-drawing and categorization and mathematics are, largely, artificial. We mustn’t let them determine for us how we see, judge, or value others. There is no pure normal. Each one of us is different from every other one of us. Why can’t we deal with that?

So, the sword is double-edged. One, let’s let other people be uniquely themselves. If God needed more copies of you or me, then God would’ve made more copies of you or me. But God didn’t. So, don’t argue with what God has created. Two, God has created you and me. Our responsibility is to be uniquely ourselves, and to be so most fully so that we can accomplish God’s loving purposes on earth. So, let’s let each other be free, and while we’re free, let’s love one another deeply, passionately and profoundly in the ways that are uniquely our own.

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