I smiled at the naïveté of her question. Of course I remembered him. Even years later, it was easy to recall his face, the sound of his voice, his peculiar habits, and even the way he smelled. Human memory is a funny thing the way it holds on to the odd and unusual with an iron grasp.
Sanjar was the kid in my fifth grade class that stood by himself, ate by himself and talked to himself. With coordination like that of a duck walking through quicksand and an accent like molasses, any personality he had to offer the class was severely inhibited. Anything that got past the first set of challenges had to face a staunch barrier of body odor and a pair of eyebrows like a deep, dark forest. On the first day of school, people stayed away from Sanjar.
As the year wore on, I became Sanjar’s only friend. I was the only one who would eat lunch with him, let alone talk to him. I was the only one to ever give him a gift.
The week before Christmas break, the whole class had to draw a name and secretly give that person a small gift each day. I had to buy things for Sanjar. It was hard but at least, I thought, Sanjar wasn’t buying gifts for me!
That week I received jelly beans, a bracelet, and a stuffed puppy dog. I was receiving some of the best gifts in the class and I assumed they were, of course, from my best friend who would know all the things I like and would have taken time to wrap each one individually and get me a card. I was thrilled.
When the anticipated day came, I told Sanjar that I was his “Secret Santa” and he thanked me awkwardly but profusely. It was, however, my awkward profession of thanks a moment later that significantly impacted me. Sanjar was my “Secret Santa.”
Why was I so shocked? Maybe it was my perception that what he looked and smelled like, could, and would somehow determine the love and thoughtfulness he could show. I had looked at his appearance and judged his heart. All I know is that I got a lot more that jelly beans, a bracelet, and a stuffed puppy that week; I got a glimpse into the heart of Sanjar and a startling look at my own heart.
One day, almost a year after I moved to a different school, I received a call from Sanjar’s mother who thanked me for being his only friend. She asked me if I still had the stuffed puppy. She said Sanjar still talked about me often. She asked if I remembered
Today, I remember his strange looks and awkward mannerisms, but that is not remembering him. Yes, I remember Sanjar, and when I do, I am reminded that regardless of a person’s outward appearance, I should choose to look at their heart.
(Names have been changed)