I read a recent news article about a French lady, Isabelle Dinoire, who in 2005 became the first-ever person to undergo a face transplant. Isabelle’s tale is a truly horrifying one; allow me to quote the BBC website as I tell it to you.
“In a fit of depression in May 2005, Isabelle took an overdose of sleeping pills in an attempt to end her life.
“She awoke to find herself at home, lying beside a pool of blood, with her pet Labrador at her side. The dog had apparently found her unconscious, and desperate to rouse her, had gnawed away at her face. The injuries to her mouth, nose and chin were so extreme that doctors immediately ruled out a routine face reconstruction. Instead they proposed a ground-breaking face transplant.
“Dinoire’s delight at her new face, however, quickly turned sour. She was completely unprepared for the attention her case brought her. Pursued by the media, harassed by passers-by and curious onlookers, Dinoire spent months after the operation hidden away at home, not daring to venture out.
“Nowadays, people still recognise her around town, but the attention is “not as brutal” as before, she says.
“”With time I have got used to my own face. This is what I look like, what I am like, who I am. If people stare at me insistently, I don’t care any more, I just stare back!” she says, with a hint of a smile.
“But has her personality changed as well as her outward appearance? “No” she replies quickly, “I am the same, just with a different face.””
I found this account of Isabelle’s life fascinating, first and foremost because it reminded me of the 90’s film “Face Off” starring John Travolta and Nicholas Cage, but also because this is a suicidal woman who, in one dramatic evening, had her life turned into a living hell but has come out of her ordeal with a more positive mentality than previous. Her case is fairly unique, and here’s why.
1. Her suicide attempt worsened her appearance, yet her desire to end her life has gone. Dinoire went from having a “normal” face and feeling suicidal to having a scarred, misshapen and transplanted face but being happy to declare that she is comfortable with who she is. The general trend is that the more distinct your abnormalities are, the more depressed you become about them. Yet when Dinoire was made to appreciate where true beauty lay, she realised that maybe this life is worth a shot. Let’s pray that any inclinations towards suicide would subside.
2. Everyone knows who she is and what she tried to do, yet she pities them rather than herself. She found herself dealing with tormentors, bullies and sneering onlookers, people who took great amusement in her obvious misfortune. How does she respond? “I just stare back,” says Isabelle. “I don’t care any more.” Through her reaction to both her situation and to the attitude of those around her, she’s able to practise incredible grace and forgiveness. What a great example Dinoire is of how we mustn’t let the words and actions of others dictate the sort of person we become.
So, Jonny, it’s an interesting article but that doesn’t really explain why are you discussing it on your blog. Let me fill in the cracks. As I read through this article I started drawing parallels between this woman’s ordeal and the Christian life. They weren’t all direct parallels, but there were several thought-provoking admonitions littered between the lines. Here are three Christian lessons that I drew from this article:
1. It’s human nature to allow curiosity to dictate our actions, regardless of whether we intend it to. Sadly this can often see us imposing ourselves on others unintentionally. All too often we become the curious onlooker-turned-tormentor that Dinoire talks about – we want to know why A broke up with B, why H wasn’t singing at church in the morning, or – in this case – how this lady came to look so peculiar. It’s just a habit – we’re all on a knowledge trip, aren’t we? We live in a sea of curiosity, but maybe it would be good for us to swim up to the surface for a big gulp of perspective every once in a while.
2. When we become Christians we are different, with just the same face. That is to say, when we find our transformation through Christ, something inside us changes that makes us new, beautiful, gracious and hopeful people. Isabelle Dinoire tells us about how she’s remained the same person on the inside despite her change of face, and it’s great that she’s not allowed her operation to be a stumbling block, but when we walk with Christ we gain much more than that. The Scriptures tell us [Galatians 4:6] that “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Everything about us apart from our face changes [unless you’re a “shave-once-a-month” kinda guy].
3. The medicines of this world, whilst brilliant, do not compare with the miracles of God. The most advanced transplant available to this woman still left her physically scarred. Medical treatment is great, and it’s developed a remarkable amount in a very short space of time, but this article serves as a reminder that science’s best efforts pale into insignificance when compared with the supernatural feats of an almighty God. I’m referring to resurrections, the removal of lepresy, the curing of blindness and the healing of cripples. I’m also talking about the most significant healing that has ever occurred, and the only one that holds eternal significance – the removal of our sin, through Jesus’ death on the cross. Just like the NHS, this particular health service is free. Unlike the NHS, it comes with the rather generous freebie of a life in heaven with the God of the universe for the rest of time.
Beats a free bottle of shampoo and a box of tissues.