I was walking down the street minding my own business, absorbed in my own problems and being my usual less than confident self, when a girl shouted at me (and her friends) ‘Hey, look at him’.
I was half tempted to look behind me to see who she must be referring to, but I knew it was me. I must have turned crimson with embarrassment and felt absolutely humiliated when she and her friends smirked as they looked directly at me. In that moment I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me.
I was about 20 when this incident occurred, very much a raw and unformed character. I wanted so much to be seen as ‘normal’ and not ‘different’, but when you run into such naked hostility it’s hard to be like everyone else; to lift your head above the very low level it was in then no matter how hard you tried.
I was thinking about that girl recently, not out of any sense of malice or thoughts of revenge – that’s not my style. I hope she got over her foolishness and became a better person; that she experienced the joys of marriage and parenthood. I wonder if she ever heard me on radio, saw me on TV or read my blog so that she would realise I am no longer that timid and frightened person she happened upon then.
I had to deal with how I look every day. And not just when I stepped outdoors because I could never forget this face. It was not a mask I could take off and hide, although I wished back then I could do just that.
If that girl had made the effort to look beyond my face she might have noticed that while I was scared to face the world, beneath those scars was a painfully shy guy with a lot to give with the right encouragement. I tried so hard to break down the barriers I had erected, to not be afraid to take risks by reaching out to others. Except I was afraid of failure, of being rejected – so I fed off that fear and held back. It was a serious mistake as I later learned, but that would take years to discover.
The truth is that behind that face is a fairly intelligent guy who has endured the kind of physical pain and emotional distress you wouldn’t understand unless you went through it yourself. I’ve been my own worst enemy in trying to build a normal life and reacted badly to so many incidents such as the one above. I simply couldn’t handle the insults, the staring and pointing. I felt a shame about myself than made me doubt my capacity to retain both sanity and dignity. I wanted to be liked and loved, but believed my face was the greatest impediment to happiness.
I would tell that girl that she missed out on knowing a pretty nice guy if she had taken the trouble to stop and talk rather than try to diminish me as a person. Instead I scurried away.
My message is simply that a face – whether we perceive it to be beautiful or less so – is just skin on bone, and only part of the real person lurking inside. What you can miss when you dismiss people with that first judgmental look is a warm, funny and engaging human being, with a capacity for friendship and love; who is a good listener and talker. And that person may be me or you. Think before you judge.