His eyes were blue.
That’s what I remember when I think back to our conversation. I remember thinking his eyes looked exactly like the ocean.
We were on our way home, from Moncton to Toronto, and he sat in the aisle seat, while I had the window. I love the window seat the most, because I like to look out at the millions of tiny houses and cars and people and pools and pretend they're a city I could hold between my fingertips.
The plane had just started to climb into the air when he knocked his elbow against mine. I turned to him. I smiled.
I always smile when I feel awkward.
“My name is John.” He said, each word painfully slow, his hand sort of flapping while pointing to his chest.
“Hi John. It’s nice to meet you. My dad's name is John, too.”
He sort of smiled and then asked me, long and slow, each syllable a marathon, “What is your name?”
I felt guilty when the word slipped quick and easy from my lips. “Aliza.”
“Aliza,” he repeated, nodding.
He looked at me, his blue eyes sharp but kind.
“I have to apologize.” His face contorted as he said this, and I wondered if he might cry. “I haven’t always been like this. It wasn’t this way when I was born. I got into an accident.”
It took a few moments to comprehend what he said, because I found it hard to understand some of his words. But then I realized.
I have the same feeling now as I had then - this deep set sinking in my gut, a pain that sits inside every string in my heart - knowing that this man felt he needed to apologize to me because I might think him different.
I knew when I had sat down beside him, that by physical standards, he and I were not exactly the same.
What I didn't know, was that it was an acquired brain injury, and what I couldn't fathom, was that he would feel it necessary to say sorry to the girl who sat beside him.
“You don’t have to apologize.”
He simply smiled, and I wondered: how many plane trips had he taken where people didn’t talk to him because people thought he was different? How many times had he walked down the street and was treated unkindly because people thought he was different? How many days did he wake up wishing, praying, begging God to go back to the day where people didn't think him different?
Before John’s accident, no one would have looked at him twice. But I saw the looks he was given on the plane, looks I was given on that plane - as if they pitied me for having to sit next to him.
My heart hurt then, because the truth is, John’s no different then me.
The function of our bodies may not work the same way - but we were fastened and formed and moulded and made and brought into this world by a God who loves us madly.
The insides of our brain may look a little different - but we're both searching and hoping and laughing and struggling, and so yes, maybe those things don't look the exact same for the two of us, but who is to say that determines that he is different and I am normal?
I despise the fact that he felt he needed to apologize to me, as if I was this poor, unlucky, burdened girl by having to sit next to him on the plane.
John’s favourite movie is 21 Jump Street. He reads a lot of books and loves Netflix, and used to be a really good biker. He was a daredevil when he was fourteen years old, and he loves going to the gym.
He pointed to the long scar on my right knee and asked me what happened. John is well aware of peoples' scars.
He wondered if I was in university or college, and I said no, but I told him I write. He smiled when I said that, and he told me he likes thinking of ideas for books, but he would hate to actually write one.
"Way too much work," he said. I laughed.
Before we got off the plane, as we descended low into Toronto, John elbowed me again. I turned to him, and I’ll never forget the words he gave to me.
“Aliza, I hope you do well with your writing." And in the sincerest voice I've ever heard, "And I hope that you are able to do everything I can’t.”
I wanted to cry as he bestowed those words upon me.
I prayed for him while I meandered down the airport halls, watching the people hurry off to wherever they so desperately needed to get to.
Let him know he is valuable. Let him know he matters. Let him know he’s worth so much more than he could ever comprehend.