We walked up to the cafeteria trash can from opposite sides of the room. In my hand was a Burger King bag with half of the food I had ordered still inside. In his hand was what was left of an apple; nothing but the stem. As he reached his hand out over the trash can, I winced at the sight of the dirt under his neglected nails. After he threw away his apple remains, he just stood there waiting. I extended my arm and just before I released my grip he shouted, “Wait!” “Yes?” I replied. “Are you REALLY going throw that away?” he said shocked. “Yeah? I’m finished with it. Why? Do YOU want it?” I said rudely. His eyes lit up and he smiled. Everyone always tells me just how blessed I am and how blinded I am to the world outside of my four-story house on the North side of town. But until just now, when I saw that expression on his face, I didn’t even realize how right they are. My first reaction, of course, was to look him up and down and compare obvious differences; his pants were three inches too short and they were faded from wear, mine had just been bought for $100 last weekend; his hair was shaggy and greasy, mine had fresh highlights and was styled by a professional; his shirt was dirty and had holes in the sleeves, mine was designed by a designer in NYC. But then, as I searched deeper past the material things, I noticed his eyes. The same sky blue as mine. I looked down at his stomach. With every breath it moved just like mine. His smile. Beautiful and bright, just as mine is. I looked at his neck. There was a copper chain with a plastic cross dangling from it. I felt my neck. My diamond-embedded cross with a 24 karat gold chain attached was there. We are the same. I handed him the food and walked away smiling. That day, I looked for him in the halls, but I didn’t see him into I was climbing into the back of the Escalade after school. He was proudly stepping into an old rusty white car without rims or a grill. As it chugged away, I waved at him. He looked at me completely shocked. He just stared until we pulled away. Later, I was talking to a teacher about him, trying to identify him. She told me that he is autistic and the words he said to me were his first. I was humbled, shocked, speechless. The people I use to look at with disgust and disgrace I now look at with mercy and compassion. They are just like me; living, breathing, smiling human-beings. We are all the same.
Paper Bags and Apple Cores
March 7, 2012