My late boyfriend had brain surgery about 25 years ago. Because of this, a big section of the back of his skull was missing, and his face was lopsided. To mask these things a little bit, he grew his hair long and wore a beard. I thought he was absolutely gorgeous. Certainly the best looking man I’ve ever known. But I was biased.
People who didn’t know him often mistook him for a derelict. It didn’t help that as a roofing contractor he was often wearing grubby clothes by necessity. And because his speech was slurred, he was sometimes treated as if he were mentally retarded. That was ironic, because a more intelligent man you will never meet. One time he was rudely kicked out of a convenience store because the clerk thought he was a hobo. And sometimes people would avoid him on the street. He’d try to smile at them, but his face was no longer capable of that. He had the most smiling eyes I’ve ever seen in my life, though.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people were over the top nice to him. People would often offer him food. He’d smile with his eyes and thank them and explain that it wasn’t necessary.
He used to say that he spent a great deal of time convincing every new person he met that he was normal. Mostly he was amused by it, but sometimes it made him tired to be so misunderstood. There wasn’t much he could do about it, though. He just had to start from scratch with every single person every single day. Every. Single. Day.
Now that he’s gone, I often see people walking down the street that look quite a bit like him. Once upon a time I would have thought, “homeless” and discounted these people. Granted, some of them are, indeed, begging on street corners, and now, in my mourning, that makes me get more than a little emotional. I wish I could save every Chuck I see.
I often think how lucky I am that I didn’t discount Chuck when we first met, or I’d have missed out on some of the most amazing parts of my life. I’m not suggesting that you go out and embrace every scruffy stranger you see. But maybe pause a couple of extra seconds and give them a little bit more of a chance. Because you just never know.