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Coping with special physical gift presents a tall order

Years ago I met two Japanese students in a youth hostel. They were much shorter than I and asked my height. Calculating quickly, I responded that I was 2 meters tall. "Ah, 2 meters," they excitedly replied. "You the Two Meter Man!"

Since reaching the height of 6 feet 4 at age 16, I have lived in a world not designed for me. My stature, an advantage when playing high school basketball, often has proved a drawback in the real world. Now standing 6 feet 7, I cautiously ease under most doorways and warily eye ceiling fans. You must move carefully when you are the Two Meter Man.

Recently I endured a long horseback ride with a church group. I was assigned to Buckshot, a large, magnificent creature. What a grand pair we made! On Buckshot I felt like Robert E. Lee reviewing his troops.

Once we entered the woods, though, I fought the Civil War all over again. Branches reached down to ensnare and slash, dislodging my hat, scraping my forehead. In self-defense I spent much of the ride leaning forward in a most undignified pose.

At my elevation I perceive life from a different angle. I enjoy unimpeded views of passing parades and may easily inspect the tops of refrigerators.

Likewise, I am seen differently. People crane their necks to speak with me. Common comments include: "How tall are you?" "How's the weather up there?" "Did you ever play basketball?"

I try to accept such remarks with grace, and I've learned to accommodate myself to short beds, uncomfortable seats, tiny bathtubs and low ceilings. I buy clothes through "big and tall" catalogs.

Gradually I have grown accustomed to my height and rather enjoy my distinctiveness. Yet the world and I still clash.

In May I flew for the first time in a hot-air balloon. Four passengers crowded into the small basket, the pilot ignited the fuel, a flame leaped up and the huge balloon floated upward. How glorious.

But I immediately faced two problems. As the Earth raced away, I felt unprotected in a basket with sides only 3 feet high and vulnerable to the flame near my head. Realizing life outweighed my dignity, I knelt for most of the trip, enjoying the flight on my knees. My wife, who is 5 feet 8, had a perfectly delightful trip.

In spite of such indignities, I have learned to view my height as a special gift. My size attracts attention wherever I go, especially with children and young people. So I try to use this in a positive way.

I smile and chat with those who comment on my height. And usually I sit or kneel when talking with others, especially children. Rather than an impediment, this position gives me a natural entree into their world. I look into their eyes, listen to their words, attune myself to their feelings. Relating in this way is part of what I call my "tall calling."

Regardless of our size or shape, we all have similar needs and desires, and are called to love one another. After all, it is not the body that is most important, but the heart. As the Scripture says, "Blessed are the pure in heart."

Each of us is unique and called to cultivate and enjoy our special gifts. For me it is life as the Two Meter Man.

Eric Houghton is a Dunedin lawyer.

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