It was just your typical hustle and bustle pre-holiday shopping day at your all-Americanana shopping mall. Santa Claus’ face was extra beet red with his repetitive and booming “Ho! Ho! Ho!” to lure wide-eyed and innocent children with visions of sugar plums, reindeer, and beautifully innocent beliefs and miracles. Lots of people. Lots of bling-bling decorations to blind eyes. Lots of loud music to deafen ears. Lots of EVERYTHING to tantalize and get people to open purses and wallets to pay money for the glorious gifts to give this time of year.
After a long and arduous shopping extravaganza that had aches in our feet and backs that were sore, my sister and I had collapsed on one of the seats attached to a table in the food court area. My sister was sipping on an iced coffee. I was just about half-asleep in a shopping coma with my face cupped in my hands and ready to nod off right then and there.
I rubbed my eyes to try to wake myself up. That is when I noticed this man walking up and down the aisles of the food court as people laughed, munched, and rested from a long and exhausted day of holiday shopping.
He was an average and simple-looking man. Medium build. Had to be about mid-30’s. A patch of shocking black hair just to keep his head warm. He wore blue jeans and a black turtleneck. A black messenger bag hugged his body. The man’s stride was purposeful, certain, and determined. He was stopping at each table and then reached in his messenger bag to give out an item that I could not make sense of.
Before I could figure out what this item was, he was suddenly in front of my sister and me. His eyes were like dark chocolates that were filled with mischievousness and mystery with a morsel of fear. His eyes shifted to her and then to me. My sister and I stared back at this man like little, curious children who awaited with anticipation with what he was about to say. But, he did not say anything. Not one single word. Instead, he slowly reached into his messenger bag and placed on the table a small card and a tiny keychain with a smiley face shoe hooked on it. As he quickly walked away to the next table, my sister and I leaned in to read the card. We looked at each other in doubt and disbelief.
The card read that this man was deaf, and that he was giving out these tiny keychain shoes for the amount of $2.00. If we did not pay the $2.00 then he would take the little tiny keychain shoe back. The card did not indicate if he needed the money for himself suffering from hard times, or if maybe the money was for some organization or for his family or friends.
“Do you really think he’s deaf?” my sister whispered.
I searched for the man again and caught a glimpse of the back of his head. On the backs of his ears were hearing aids.
I nodded to my sister. “I think he is deaf. He had hearing aids, or maybe those are cochlear implants. I don’t know. But, I think we should give him the money.”
My surroundings went silent when I saw the scene unfold before me. The man who had just quickly placed a card and a keychain shoe on each table was slowed down because people at the tables where the tiny shoe was dropped were trying to converse and connect with him. A smile emerged on his face. Light flickered in his eyes. His mouth never opened once to speak. But, yet, he was speaking without words.
He came to our table again, and picked up the card that he had left for us. His eyes then met ours with glimmers of friendliness and hope. I gave the $2.00 for my smiley-faced shoe keychain. My sister gave $2.00, but pointed to his bag. He opened it, and inside was an endless array of keychain shoes to distribute and contribute to the world to listen to him.
My sister pointed to the sparkly red shoe keychain. He happily obliged by handing it to her. Before we could say anymore, he was abruptly gone.
“I don’t think I could ever do what he is doing,” my sister said.
“Go up to strangers and ask for money with these little shoes.”
I looked at her quizzically, and thought to myself, He didn't even verbally ask for money.
I tucked the keychain carefully in my own bag. I thought about what my sister said. Would I have done what he did? I tried to picture and imagine myself walking bravely and boldly to each and every single table as he did, but the picture could not fully form in my mind. But, who is to say that I would not have done what he did? Our situations, circumstances, and the need to survive and thrive are what drive us to acts committed and consequences resulted. Just because we cannot see us doing something in our mind ideally does not mean that we would not actually do it in reality.
Maybe these tiny little shoes were symbolic of stopping to think how our surroundings and situations drive us and how we never really know how someone is feeling or what someone is going through until we are literally living what they are living by walking in their shoes.
I had no idea what it was like to be deaf. I took for granted the sounds, the songs, the words, the voices, and that the great gifts hearing and listening give to us is the ability to communicate and connect with people. Yet, the irony about this man is what many see as a loss of his hearing was actually his ultimate gain in how he found the way to connect and communicate his message clearly from the written words on the card and from his bag of keychain shoes; We find the way to compensate and gain with what appears to be a great loss.
This man had piqued to curiosity of strangers to try to understand him and even communicate and connect with him. How many people in that mall and on that one day alone will have a shoe keychain that had shared his story? How many of these people will maybe even start a conversation once others see the keychain? How many people are there who only appear average, but have went above average in what they have had to endure? He had made people stop for just a minute about the greatness of communication lying in the ability to connect with others through gestures and facial expressions. Words are not always needed and the greatest and most profound conversations and words that speak volumes and that provide the strongest connections are through simple and silent acts. The power of doing surpasses only saying.
My exchange with this man was wordless and speechless, and less than five minutes. He had made his impact. He had told his tale.
All without words, he had said all he needed to say.