The doctor said the red spot on my nose was an overgrown blood vessel left over from pregnancy.
“Unless you’re hiding a serious drinking problem.” Knowing me, he chuckled.
He referred me to a dermatologist to get it removed. I made the appointment on a school holiday, because that’s what teachers do with their days off. It’s too much work to be gone and we don’t like to leave our students to someone else.
I left the dermatologist’s office with a wad of gauze on my nose attached with surgical tape. It was so big I could see it and had to keep myself from staring at it as I drove.
I stopped at a Walmart to pick up painkillers to get through the rest of the day. The parking lot was crowded and I wove around looking for a spot, then walked toward the store, trying not to walk in front of cars or people.
By the time I got to the door, I realized I was attracting a lot of glances. I felt like turning around and heading for the car, but my nose was starting to throb and I wanted relief. I told myself that I didn’t need to see any of these people again and headed in.
I passed many more people on the way to the pharmacy, who all displayed their discomfort with my appearance in one way or another. It surprised me how they fit neatly into categories. Small kids gazed with open faces, no judgement. Adolescent boys gave me looks tinged with disgust or horror. Men stared as well but kept their faces neutral. Girls and women glanced at me, then quickly looked away.
My average looks and appearance generally attract little notice. I walk through life and Walmart anonymously. This visit was unsettling. I was in pain now in more ways than one, hovering on the edge of tears.
None of this is surprising. We are wired from birth to notice differences. What is remarkable is our ability to overcome our natural human instinct to shun those that are different. My guess is that that comes with practice. Those with experience with people who are in some ways different than themselves can learn to see the similarities. My physical difference was in place for only a short while. I can only imagine the bravery it would take to face those reactions day after day.
I turned a corner and came face-to-face with another woman. She was a little taller than me, with dark wavy hair framing her cheerful face. She looked me right in the eye and continued smiling, before side-stepping to go into the next aisle.
I have thought of that woman often over the years and I am grateful that we crossed paths that day. Her smile restored my humanity in that moment.
This Thanksgiving I choose to feel thankful for the kindness of strangers. I feel thankful that more majority voices are rising in solidarity with minority ones. I am encouraged when advertisers who keep their fingers on the pulse of the general population put kindness in their ads to appeal to the masses. I love that the number two movie box office totals for last weekend were for a kids’ movie based on a #1 best-selling novel that sends the message, “Choose kind.” I love that when our leaders display other qualities, many, many more of us are coming out in favor of decency and altruism.
This holiday I wish you hospitality, graciousness and goodness, but above all, I wish you the chance to choose kindness.