March 22, 2007

Face to Face

The elevator doors opened and I found myself looking straight into his face. I jerked my eyes to the floor and grabbed my toddler's hand. He was one of those unfortunate souls with schizophrenic pigmentation and his face was an unexpected mishmash of white and brown splotches. Of course I didn't want him to think I was staring so I slunk into the elevator, eyes fix on the cheap berber carpet.

My two year old Pixie reacted quite differently. "Hi! How ya doin'?" she asked jovially. The man visibly relaxed and took her small, outstretched hand. The two of them chatted for the short elevator ride down to the lobby. As we got off, Pixie gave the man another big smile and chirped, "See ya later!" "Goodbye, sweetie," he replied. They had become instant friends and I was hesitant to split them up. But I still couldn't muster the courage to look into his face so we went our separate ways.

I wish I could have reacted like Pixie. I wish I would have instantly looked through the skin affliction to see the person underneath. But I couldn't. My immediate reaction of guilt for looking at his face was irrational yet overpowering. Somehow I thought he'd be offended if he caught me looking at him.

This man has most likely endured a miserable life of people like me politely trying to avoid eye contact. I can't imagine what it's like for him to attempt casual conversation in public when his face is so jarringly different. It's not like he's got puss coming from his eyes or bloody lesions, just splotches. But it threw me.

I'm glad my better half was with me to give this man a non-judgmental smile and some friendly words. Leave it to a two year old to be the adult in this situation. But perhaps I could be allowed some credit for raising a daughter who isn't as cowardly as I am? Now if I could just follow her lead.


glittersmama said...

I am the same way. I find it really hard to act "normal" when it comes to interacting with someone who seems a little different. I love that little kids don't care about the stuff that seems to be difficult for us. Such a good example!

compulsive writer said...

I had a similar experience with one of my children at the mall. It humbled me.

(Of course I also have a kid who said out loud in a waiting room for a popular restaurant, "Look! A pirate!" when a man with an eye patch walked in.)

Good reminder--great post!

Anonymous said...

This is off-topic, but I noticed you like the book, Gone With The Wind. My wife just finished reading it and really liked it. We had to celebrate her finishing the book with a viewing of the film - which I've always liked. Ok, just thought I'd share.

Janell said...

See? Despite the fact that her nails are dirty, you've got yourself a good kid ;)

SalGal said...

I have to tell you something funny... I live in NorCal, and know a woman named Sarah, married to an Adam, and they have a daughter about your aged named Penelope. I came over here to see if you were her, but incredibly enough you're not! Cool and weird, no?
Have a great week!

Adam said...

mmmm. schmaltzy sarah. i was beginning to wonder if she had gone away for ever. nice to know she is back, and with a vengence.

Frizzymom said...

Schmaltz nothing! I had the same exp. last week in St. Martin at the airport. We were grabbing a bite before getting on our flight home and couldn't find a place to sit. A woman finishing a cruise with a friend offered to share the table they were at. Her friend got up to order and I was left to make small talk with the lady with the most shocking all-over port wine stains I've ever seen at home or abroad. I willed myself to look into her EYES, prayed for the strength to keep my eyes on her eyes, and it wasn't easy. I guess the real story is if it doesn't bother them, don't let it bother you. They've had to deal with accepting their condition and we need to develop the instant ability to do the same. Not easy though, eh? Eh?

Come to think of it, people probably do that with me when they see my wild hair. They're probably out there praying, "Please help me concentrate on this poor woman's eyes and not her crazy, mutant head of wild hair." And I myself have gotten used to it!

Sarah said...

My daughter would freak out if she thought she saw a pirate - they're some of her favorite people!

Gone With the Wind - excellent. The sequel really left me scratching my head though. One of the most gruesome birth stories I've ever read in that book.

SalGal, thanks for reminding me, yet again, that I'm completely unoriginal. Another one of my readers is also named "Sarah Flake." Oh well. I'll have to get something pierced now to feel unique.

Yes, it's a schmaltzy post. I decided to leave out the part of the story where I pointed and laughed at the poor man.

Melinda said...

The other day we saw a guy with a mowhawk and Collin clung to me and said "Dat scary guy is going to eat me!" I we all had a good laugh (so much less awkward when the deviation from normalcy is self inflicted.) Which is why pregnancy is hard. Its self inflicted, and it isnt, so you never know whether to look or ignore pregnant women. I didnt like when people pretended I wasnt HUGE, and didnt like when they said too much. A nice smile was just right.

Annie said...

great post, sarah. I love that penny.

Rachel said...

I saw someone with that skin condition once, but I'd never heard of it before and have been wondering what it was all about ever since, so thanks for clearing it up for me. And good for Penny! My little boy has way more social skills than I do. When we took my visiting cousin to church with us, he was the one who would introduce him to people as I sheepishly stood in the background and thought, "Oh, yeah. I should have done that!"