A Smile Instead of a Stare
By Ashly P. Ash
Showing up with one leg missing and using crutches stands out when in public and in any gathering of people. I would say that I “stick out like a sore thumb” but the reality is people do not even really see a sore thumb!
Over and over I am forced to deal with the stares that being different generates. Some stares are simply out of curiosity and when a person catches him/herself staring they meet my eyes and quickly look away or down. Other times I am stared at in a very degrading manner and with open-mouthed gaping I continue to be watched long after I try to make eye contact. It is something that I can honestly say does not ever really become normal, and I do not ever get used to this. To this day, twenty four years after losing my leg, I still have to stop and ask myself why I am being stared at. I don’t feel any different than anyone else so I have a hard time figuring out those first moments why I am being stared at.
My family, friends, and even husband get very defensive and angry for me. They see me as the human being that I am and they understand that being stared at is very degrading, rude, and belittling for someone who has already been forced to endure so much in life. A lot of times I felt it was disrespectful that someone who had fought so hard to live life and enjoy life should be treated without consideration. Dealing with this has been something that I have grieved in a healthy way for many years and still strikes me on bad days at a different point in the grieving process. (For more about grieving being a chronic and continual process see my other post: https://crutchprints.com/2013/10/21/where-there-is-a-will-there-is-a-way-a-story-behind-the-story/)
To deal with staring I have tried many stances over the years. As you will see all of these required an act of repentance on my part! I had tried staring back in a mean way. I tried to lower my head so the person would see my eyes and bring their eyes up to my face. A few times I was angry enough to point out that the person is being rude loudly. I had pointed back, and honestly even asked a few people why they were staring at me when they were the ugly ones! My friends in the past stared back for me, asked people what they were looking at, even threatened to become violent. I used to say “Boooo!” to a few, ignored handfuls, but still none of these seemed appropriate or seemed to reflect who I am on the inside or in Jesus.
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.?” Luke 6:42
As all life-changing journeys, this one began on the inside. I had to deal with the lies that I had believed in regards to my situation. The lie that I was somehow “less than” others or that their stares meant there was something wrong with ME. Another lie I found myself believing was that I was unattractive or deficient because of my missing limb. Yet another stated I would never relate to “normal” people or be who God created me to be because no one could see the real me as a person. Learning who I was through Christ was a big part of this process and even continues on inside of me today. But recognizing these lies of shameful thinking allowed me to resolve my anger and bitterness so that I could leave these at the foot of the Cross in forgiveness and move on.
By the time I met my husband I had found the best way to deal with people who stare was to smile and say “Hello!” This sounds so simple and even counterproductive! On the outside it seems that the people staring at me shouldn’t deserve my smile. They certainly don’t seem to deserve my friendliness based on the way they are making me feel like mere cattle, like an object, and even dirty! Yet, in my experience I have found that when I encounter someone who is blatantly staring at me and in shock they have not even processed that I am a human being standing/walking before them. So in the simple gesture of tilting my head they see movement in their line of vision and their eyes are drawn to my face where I can smile at them. When I smile, something in their thinking process registers or “clicks” visibly on their faces and they no longer see a freak but a person that has had some sort of obvious struggle. It is at this point that I get a return smile almost every time.
We have all heard it said that a smile is a friend in any language. And many times I feel my very being is a different language from the people around me. But a smile gives us all common ground and a way to connect with one another. It contains a sense of reassurance and possibly even healing! I like to believe that by looking into my eyes and seeing my smile whatever shock a person is dealing with when wondering “Oh my, look at THAT…what would I do?!” that they receive reassurance that anything is possible with God.
“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” Matthew 19:26
We are all sinners undeserving yet receiving the mercy and the grace of God. Cancer created such a battle to fight for a four year old little girl to have to face. An ongoing battle at that and one that many times I respond to in sin! I do not deserve, yet Jesus smiles at me! When I am walking along and staring at messes in life and focused on all the wrong things I know He tilts His head and meets my eyes so that I look to HIM and receive the healing in His smile.
“Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:3-5)
My husband and I have had many discussions about this and what appropriate responses would be in these situations and we always come back to the truth. The truth is love. It is that simple. I am called to be a blessing by smiling at others and showing them that where impossibility lies, love prevails. It is through my smile that I intend to infect as many people as humanly possible…because it is the smile in an undeserved situation that demonstrates the true love of Jesus. It is the smile of Jesus that changed me.