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 fixated upon the cheap berber carpet.
My two year old Penny 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, Penny 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 Penny. 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 start up casual conversation in public when people react as I did to his unusual skin. 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.
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