They were everywhere. All over the gym floor, up and down the stands, and plastered on every single one of them was this looked that was a little bit of curiosity mixed with a smile. The announcer had just called those that were different to the floor. They each removed their shoes and sat, crisscross applesauce, while they were waiting for more instructions. They sat in groups. Some groups matched with missing left hands, some missing their right leg, and others, having no arms at all.
Am I freaking you out yet?
Do you know what it feels like to be different? I mean, to REALLY be different. To be different in the sense that when you walk into a room, people look at you like you have seven eyes (not that I have ever seen someone that has seven eyes) but you get the drill. No? Me either.
Few people genuinely understand, actually. For most people, what they are dealing with in life is on the inside. It could be relational problems, financial issues, wondering what they want for dinner, thinking about their dogs at home (not that I do this often), or just dreaming about where they could go in life. It is not always negative, but it brings out the differences in humanity.
It really defines the idea of “You never know what people are dealing with, so be nice,” doesn’t it?
Honestly, I had no idea. I knew what it felt like to be kind to others and to respect differences, but I did not truly understand. I had no idea what a glance, or the frequency of them, could do to someone.
I tried not to stare. I tried not to question everything that was happening in front of me for the next three days that were to come, but how could I be anything less than shocked? I had never seen anything like this before, but I was fighting back tears as I watched it all.
They started. Some were done in seconds and some took a few minutes longer. Some had never done it before, and some had no idea how.
They were tying their shoes.
Now, I learned when I was around 5 years old. I remember sitting on my parents’ bed when I had my dad’s massive tennis shoes in my lap and they showed me how to do it. One bunny ear, two bunny ears, and loop. Easy, right?
Try it with one hand. Right now. Sit there, with your tennis shoes in your lap, and try it.
It takes time. It takes practice. But eventually, there’s perfection.
They were of all ages. Some were just littles that entered kindergarten, some were college athletes, and some already had their own kiddos, but they all had a common denominator. They were all limb-different of some sort, and they were ALL smiling.
What did I learn that day? Well, first off, I learned to double check myself before glancing at someone too often or too long, because in reality, I’m the one that looks out of place. I learned that I should not take what Susie said to me three days ago as a true insult because I could ALWAYS have it worse. And, last but certainly not least, I learned to be persistent.
This place, these people, and these circumstances were so not my comfort zone. When you are walking around, surrounded with hundreds of people that look the same, and you are not like them, you look different. This can be in so many different ways, but this organization, this NubAbility that everyone is talking about, it’s changing lives.
I remember sitting in the pool with two girls my very first year that I was a part of the organization. It was the first time that swimming was even an option, and we had more people than we had expected. I was in the shallow end of the water with the littles that had never learned to swim before (yeah, I had kiddos in the water that were missing limbs by myself, but hey we survived). By the end of the session with them, some were floating on a kickboard, some were kicking on the side of the wall, and some were swimming around me in circles. But these two girls would not leave my side. One was African-American and the other was from Asia. I remember one of them asking me why we look different, and why my face is lighter than theirs. Then the other lifted her hand to my face so her palm was easily compared to the color of my cheek. I told the girls to look at their hands. They noticed that their pals were all pale, like mine, and we decided right then and there that we were sisters.
I fell in love that day. I fell in love with an organization that takes these differences that people, especially kids, are facing, and it turns them into champions. It takes that shame and fear they have when they walk into a building, the building I went to high school, and transforms it into pride and the love for themselves that they never knew was there. It allows people like me to recognize that the differences can be good. It reminds you that things in life, even the small ones like fastening laces on a shoe, can be big challenges to others. It reminds you to be kind, to love others, and to open your eyes.
From an outsider's perspective, this organization is changing lives. It is shining light on a community that most people forget exists. It is developing friendships, it is recognizing accomplishments, and it is making a difference for those who are different. It is reminding kids that they really do have the power to accomplish what they are set out to do, even if it may take some extra practice. Last but not least, it is showing the world that we really are made perfect in the eyes of Jesus.