There’s that uncomfortable self consciousness you get when you walk by some people, and they suddenly stop their conversation. Their eyes follow you like you’re under scrutiny and it seems like an eternity until you can escape their gaze. Even though you avoid eye contact, you can practically feel their stares burning into you like lasers as you continue on your way. It’s like being studied under a microscope or trapped behind glass in a zoo exhibit.
Everybody has probably felt this way at least once in their lifetime. Whether you have to use a wheelchair to get around, or have a more daring and eclectic fashion sense, or even if you’re in the center of the latest rumor circulating around your high school. During those moments of painful awkward silence, most people have felt tiny twinges of doubt, or small stabs of insecurity. Because honestly, everyone has those insecurities and challenges whether they’re visible to others around them or not. For some, the moments described are few and far between. But for others, they’ve had to grow used to the constant stares.
In my case, I’ve felt eyes on me as I walk with a slight limping gait and unusual electrical knee brace. One of my heroes and role models, Bethany Hamilton had to deal with people gaping at her missing arm everyday after a horrific shark attack. Yet she overcame the challenges; including rude stares from strangers, and went on to become an awesome professional surfer and all around incredible person. I also know a fellow cancer fighter with a prosthetic leg whose personality instantly charms and brightens the lives of everyone he meets.
So when I walk past yet another group of people in the hallway whose eyes dart to my legs, then get strangely quiet, I try not to drown in the waves of uncomfortable attention. Instead of letting self consciousness drag me down, I use inner strength and inspiration from others to lift me back up. I’ve walked away with great empathy for those who have lived with a disability all their lives. I now view them as examples of some of the strongest people out there, because I’ve been on both sides of the situation.
No matter how thick skinned you are, there are qualities of yourself you probably have less confidence about. Though it seems unfair that some people have to have these things constantly on display for all the world to see, I believe that they can all teach us a lesson about brushing off our inner doubts and walking past the painful glances with strength and confidence. If they can do it their entire lives, I can at least manage to deal with it as well. And next time you pass someone a little different, I ask that you meet their eyes with a friendly smile and continue on with your conversation. Look past the surface and find what connects you. Because you know that it never feels good to be goggled at like a zoo animal. Because you know what it feels like to be on the other side of the microscope.