I have a confession. I admit I am guilty of underestimating a person strictly because of their appearance. Yes, it is a shitty thing to do. It’s unfair and superficial, but I think it is safe to say that I am not the only one who has done this. It actually happened a couple of weeks ago; one of my older classmates (let’s call him Bob) was about to present his project to the class. Specific characteristics about Bob made me think he wasn’t the brightest nor the sharpest. So, there I was; half-heartedly listening to his presentation (only because I was loosing focus on having to listen to so many other projects) and totally oblivious for what was about to come.
A couple of minutes passed until I started to really pay attention to what he had to say about the subject he chose. He wasn’t like the other classmates; he was very engaging and enlivened. Bob talked about the subject of war as if he had first hand experience of it. It was just a project for school, but he put his heart and soul into it when he talked about how ancient soldiers use to fight. He completely captured my attention. Once he was done, our teacher asked him why he chose to talk about war. A sad smile appeared on his weathered-out face.
“Well, it is easy to talk about something if you have been through it yourself. I know what it feels like to be gunned down and stabbed. I still remember fighting in the Vietnam War like it was yesterday,” he explained.
My mouth dropped to the floor in utter shock. In that moment, I knew I had totally misjudged this man. He was a war hero. He went on about his experiences in combat and the men he used to know who fight by his side. He talked about what it was like to kill another human being.
“You know…,” his voice cracked from the budding tears, “they teach you how to kill and how to start a war, but they never teach you how to stop it.”
Tears trickled down my own cheeks; his story was like something you would hear in a movie. But it wasn’t, it was his own life that he experienced through his own eyes. It wasn’t some made up, glorified war story where the hero goes home unscathed of war’s wrath. He was a living, breathing veteran who has seen things I could not even imagine. My respect for him skyrocketed. I could feel his pain as he poured his life out in front of us. The class was in tears as they were just as surprised as I was to hear about what this man went through. Although the Vietnam War ended for him long ago, a psychological and mental battle still wages inside his mind. He is a tortured soul, but he is miraculous because despite the suffering he still chooses life. Even though he wanted nothing else in the whole wide world to die alongside his friends on that battlefield, he still chooses to keep going.
“I truly wanted to die. I wanted to end the pain. But I knew, deep down, there was a part of me that was begging to live,” he weeped.
It baffles me to think that I once underestimated Bob. Little did I know how much wisdom and stories he had to share. I could endlessly learn from people like Bob. In fact, I can learn from anyone. I just have to keep an open mind and listen. I did not know what I needed to know until Bob shared his life; never judge a book by its cover.