Not long after the opening credits, a big fat lump lodged in my throat and refused to budge. Fifteen minutes into the movie, I was furiously trying to blink away tears.
Towards the end, I had a fine collection of balled-up tissue paper that I’d used (at first surreptitiously, then “oh heck it” openly) to wipe my eyes and nose.
I’d expected Wonder, a coming-of-age tale about a boy born with facial deformities, to be touching. But I didn’t think I’d need one whole pack of tissue paper.
“Maybe it’s because as a mum, I really feel for kids who are bullied or ostracised,” I told my equally misty-eyed husband. “And imagine the pain and helplessness of his parents.”
The film is based on the 2012 best-selling book of the same name by R.J. Palacio. Auggie Pullman, the young protagonist, starts fifth grade in a mainstream school after years of being home-schooled by his mum.
He is as unprepared to face the horrified looks as the other children are to look him in the face, and his toy astronaut helmet becomes his security blanket.
The 10-year-old is mocked, taunted, shunned and, then, most wrenchingly, betrayed by the only friend he thought he had.
I don’t pretend to know what challenges children with special needs or conditions face daily or the emotional turmoil their parents go through as they watch their kids try to find their spot in the world.
But parents have one thing in common: We hurt when our children hurt. And it doesn’t take a distinctive trait, physical or otherwise, to mark one as different.
As I watched Auggie suffer for being the odd one out, I was reminded of all those times my kids came home crushed because they had felt left out in school.
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The vagaries of childhood friendships are such that you can be tolerated one day and tormented the next, for children can be as generous as they are vicious.
Even good friends can suddenly turn frosty and you are lucky if you know why.
My son was once mocked and ignored for days after he was blamed for his team coming in last during PE games.
My daughter could not find friends to eat with for a spell when she started Primary 1 last year. Then, just as I thought things had settled down, she was booted out of her usual playground gang one day because “you’re the only one among us who doesn’t take ballet”.
The incidents might sound trivial, even laughable. But in their world, these come as seismic shocks.
The reasons for exclusion are many and the rules vary from day to day.
If so-called normal kids like mine can easily become outliers, I ache to think what other kids might have to deal with.
But it doesn’t take a parent to weep for Auggie. The story has resonated with folks around the world because we’ve all had our share of Wonder moments and experiences.
We’ve all been Auggie at some point and likely his tormentors at others. We’ve all been made to feel undesirable, unimportant, unwelcome or unworthy, or caused others to feel the same. I know I have and the realisation is both sad and sobering.
And while blatant bullying is abhorrent, the sin of omission is just as appalling.
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times