Due to some rare, genetic disorder, Cliff was born with physical features that made him different from everyone else. Although, most people would say “different” was a kind term to use to describe Cliff. Many people were disgusted and horrified by Cliff’s disfigured face, twisted limbs and humped back.
As a result, Cliff was raised in a sanatorium and was sheltered from the rest of the world. Well-meaning relatives pretended that it was for Cliff’s own good that they kept him away from the public, but they really knew, deep down inside, that they were protecting the public from being exposed to Cliff.
When Cliff turned twenty-one he moved out on his own into a cruel and sometimes, ugly world. Cliff loved walking outside and learned how to avoid most crowded areas; how to ignore the stares, guffaws and outright rude and disgusting remarks sent his way; and, how to pretend that he fit in this world same as everyone else.
On this one particular sunny day, Cliff noticed a man sitting alone on a park bench. The man seemed to be simply enjoying the sunshine on his face. Cliff was quick to notice the dark sunglasses the man wore and the dog lying by his feet with a harness and handle that indicated it was a seeing-eye-dog. Starving for some human interaction and conversation, Cliff got up enough courage to go over and sit down next to this man.
“Hi,” Cliff said, approaching the park bench, “mind if I sit here and join you?”
“No, not at all,” responded the stranger.
“Beautiful day”, Cliff offered.
“Absolutely,” responded the man, still just leaning back and basking in the sun. “I just love the feel of the warm sun on my face after a long winter.”
“Yeah. I love walking in the park any day,” responded Cliff. “Sometimes, for me, it’s better on bad-weather days.”
“Really? Why is that?” asked the stranger.
“Well,” started Cliff, “I’m a little bit different than most people.”
“Different? How are you different from most people”, queried the man.
“Let’s just say I look different. So much so,” admitted Cliff, “that I scare most people.”
“Now that’s just crazy,” said the stranger. “Anyone who is scared by people who are different than they are, are really just insecure with who they are. You shouldn’t take that personally, the problem is with them, not with you.”
“Yeah, I guess so”, agreed Cliff without much conviction, “but, my situation might be a little different.”
“Could it be that your difference makes you scared of other people and that you project this onto them and justify your distance from them by believing they are afraid of you?” asked the man.
Cliff thought about that a bit and just shrugged his shoulders, saying, “Maybe, but really, I think I scare them and I understand why.”
The two men then proceeded to talk about a variety of subjects over the next half hour. Cliff was thoroughly enjoying the conversation and having another human being to talk to. For the first time in his life, Cliff felt he had finally found a friend, even if just for one day. He thought to himself, “Maybe I just need to find other people who are a little ‘different’ to become friends with”.
The stranger then announced, “Well, my time is up, I’ve got to get back to work.” He then asked Cliff, “Do you mind watching my dog a second while I go to the men’s room?”
Cliff looked at the man and then at the dog. He asked, “Don’t you need the dog to help you get to the men’s room?”
“Oh no,” said the man, “I am not blind, I train seeing-eye-dogs for those who are.”
The man looked Cliff straight in the eye and said, “You need to have more faith in people. You are a great guy to talk to, I enjoyed our conversation. You don’t need to find blind people to sit next to. There are people that can get past your outward appearance and find the man inside – you just have to give them a chance. And, those who can’t get past your ‘differences’ … well, they are probably people you wouldn’t want to talk to anyway.”
“Thanks,” Cliff said, “I’ll try.”
Cliff now walks in the park every day, saying “Hi” to strangers he passes and often sitting down and talking to others on the benches. He has made several friends that he chats with on a regular basis. Some people still point and walk away from him, but this does not bother Cliff any more.
Cliff never saw that stranger again but he wanted me to write this story to say, “Thanks”. Could you have been that stranger?