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It’s the year 2008, and the scariest thing I did was to help a neighbor named Bruce with his groceries.

No, he wasn’t some shadowy  monster from the stuff of nightmares, but Bruce-the-white-guy-with LOTS-of-cats-and-a-wheelchair was right up there with Dracula and Frankenstein in my twelve-year old mindset.  Also, I possessed a crippling shyness (I swear on my grandfather’s grave that this is an unfortunate genetic disposition in our family history).  However, all my mother had to do was frown in disappointment and say very, very quietly, “I want you to do this”… and that was that (the capacity to say “no” to others is also an unfortunate genetic disposition in our family history).

It wouldn’t be 100% true if I just excused my unwillingness to my introvert behaviour. In reality, I was more intimidated by the wheelchair rather than the elderly man who sat in it.  I didn’t look down on him or anything, I just felt uncomfortable and alienated by something I didn’t quite fully understand.   But here I was, helping Bruce with his groceries and wishing for a hole to appear in the ground and just swallow me up.

I don’t remember how we started talking — maybe it was about his cats?— but slowly yet surely, our awkward chat evolved from a little squeak (alas, from me) to a full-blown conversation.  I learned that he was the lone survivor of a plane crash, but at the cost of his legs.  I learned he that he was not an alien, but a very nice man who enjoyed feeding stray cats, his dog, and taking long strolls.  But most importantly, I learned that the problem wasn’t him, but me.

It wouldn’t be 100% true either if I said we became best buddies for life afterwards, but I can honestly say we keep a friendly connection, even to this day.  His physical state was no longer something weird for me, and the experience also taught me not to look on the outside, but on the inside (as cheezy as that sounds).  I still have a long to go with being open-minded, but I honestly can say that it’s a start.