His hair – and he had lots of it – was orange as a persimmon with curls that make steel wool look tame. It was his hair that first caught my attention, though my guess is most people would have first noticed his awkward gait and slight lilt toward one side as he struggled forward, winding his way along the crowded sidewalk.
Turning aside, I settled onto a sidewalk bench that faced the opposite side of Patricia Street and the mountains beyond. It’s surprising how the simple act of facing away from the crowd allowed me to feel like I was in my own private world, about to unwrap and enjoy the custom sandwich from the deli immediately behind me.
“Hey!” I felt a gentle tap on my left shoulder.
“Would you mind if I share the bench?” He asked this with a smile as wide and obvious as the slur in his speech.
“Sure,” I responded. Somehow I knew the slur wasn’t a result of inebriation.
It wasn’t the intense midday sun that created a glint in his eye. The young man with the persimmon hair settled so far on the opposite edge of the bench he was definitely not fully seated. The way he looked over at me, I could tell he wasn’t sure I really meant the welcome.
Intuitively I quipped in a soft, reassuring voice, “Hi.” He responded with a look of obvious relief. I knew, without asking, most people are likely not as welcoming or open when first being met with his assertiveness.
“I knew you would say “yes.”” He’s not the first person to pick me out of a crowd – I suppose there must be a smiley face invitation mark on my forehead.
He immediately began telling me about a skiing accident he had, in an effort to explain why he looked and talked the way he did. It was a skiing accident at Lake Louise. His head took the brunt of the impact as he pointed out the two points of head trauma. His right arm was badly damaged. The brain damage affected his speech and mobility.
As he was sharing this information with me, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people must greet him with jeers or insult. This young man felt obliged to explain to a total stranger why he looks and moves the way he does.
“What’s your name?” I asked. He sat back on his end of the bench, unruly eyebrows raised, with such a look of amazement you’d have thought I just swore at him. His voice stumbled as he attempted to respond, “Roy.”
“It’s nice to meet you Roy. I’m Diane.”
Roy held out his left hand, again apologizing because his right arm doesn’t work, “Diane! Oh, it’s nice to meet you too.”
“Wow,” he offered with a voice so quiet I may not have known he said anything had I not been looking directly at him.
As I finished my sandwich I had said how sorry I was about the accident. Roy’s immediate reaction was to reject that notion and to share how he felt it saved his life. He had been on drugs and was certain he would have wasted his life away. The accident ‘woke him up’ and he has since chosen to live a clean life. He felt fortunate to be alive.
After a few quiet moments I looked at him to say, “I have to leave now Roy. I’m still sorry about your accident.”
With a smile as bold and unique as his hair he said, “Thank you for talking to me!”
– 30 –
Everybody has a story. If only we took a moment to consider there is likely a very good reason why someone looks a certain way or behaves in a certain way. Besides, why should it matter how someone looks anyway?
Yes, everybody has a story.