The view from where I stand

You’ve probably noticed me by now.

At four-foot-six, I’m difficult to miss.

My height is why I receive strange looks from some of my peers and, more often, from children brought by their mothers and fathers into the McNichols library or to basketball games at Calihan Hall.

Once the children realize that I have facial hair and don’t look like their 8- or 9-year-old friends, they stare.

“Why is he so short, momma?” they ask, which quickly provokes the parent’s appeal for silence.

And, yes, I’ve heard people call me “midget.”

As much as I’d like to say it doesn’t bother me any longer, I have to admit it still does.

In fact, it makes me wince as much as it did the first time I heard it directed toward me – way back when I was attending St. Thecla in Clinton Township.

The word came from an individual I consider a friend today.  

We were simply small kids, running around Sr. Teresita’s first-grade classroom.

The boy was bigger than the rest of the children at that time, the giant, or Goliath, of the two classes of 6- and 7-year-old boys and girls. And I was the tiniest of the bunch – the “midget” of the bunch, as he so nonchalantly said.

Although the incident doesn’t have any kind of effect on me today – we long ago made up and have mutual respect for one other – it made me flinch again, just now, typing the word a second time.

But what makes me cringe as much – maybe more – is being asked to star in a freak show because of my size.

Luckily, I’ve experienced such a scenario only once in my lifetime.

It happened a year ago around Halloween.

I was in Briggs Building, coming out of a late morning class with two friends when another student – a friendly, smiling stranger, really – asked if I would help out with the campus-run Halloween event, Safety Street, which provides trick-or-treating for neighborhood children.

Being asked to serve was not the problem.

Instead, it was the role he expected me to play.

The twenty-something-year-old asked me to take a role in scaring the children as they made their way through a haunted house put together by individuals belonging to a variety of UDM student organizations.

“Would you be willing to wear a costume for the part?” he said.

I’m not a big-time costume wearer, even when it comes to Halloween – so that was an obvious turn-off to start.

When I found out that the costume would show off my diminutive features, I decided almost instantaneously not to participate.

However, I restrained myself and chose not to verbally express my disgust at the request. I simply walked off.

Later in the week, he asked again. I reacted in the same manner, never cluing the laid-back, sociable young man to my irritation. 

Such undesired attention, which none of my “normal” friends ever has to encounter or endure, could easily cause me embarrassment.

But, honestly, I refuse to allow any of this sort of thing to beat me down.

I get questions about my height occasionally, but not often.

Usually, the questions are sincere, not mean spirited.

“Are your parents little people, too?” (They’re not.)

“Can you drive a car? Do you have special pedals?” (I can and do drive, and my car has no special pedals but it does have a lever that I push forward that moves the seat close enough for me to reach the gas and brakes of my Chevy Cruze.)

And then there’s that other question, and variations of it, asked on a less serious note:

“Can I pick you up?”

“Can I put you on my shoulders?”

I guess it seems fun to some. But it occasionally makes me feel like a rag doll that they intend to toss around for a thrill.

By the way, though I don’t really advocate or enjoy when the question is posed, I have allowed this activity a few times (especially if the question is posed by a close friend). 

In general, I embrace and thrive off the distinction I hold as the single little person at the University of Detroit Mercy’s McNichols campus.

What I go through on a daily basis is a miniscule “cross to bear,” especially in contrast to the physical pain and suffering one experiences when enduring stage-four cancer or another life-threatening disease.

I don’t have the aches and agonies of the awe-inspiring terminally ill basketball player Lauren Hill, or any worries about being strong enough to go about my business when waking up the next day.

It’s exactly why feeling bad for me is unnecessary. And if you ever find yourself feeling bad for me, redirect your empathy towards someone like Hill, who needs your every prayer in order to amass the strength to live another day.

My so-called “condition” has, in fact, made me into who I am today, and I’m proud to say that it hasn’t knocked my confidence. Instead, it allows me to stand out from the rest of the pack. 

I can’t even imagine where I’d be in my development as a person if I weren’t a smart, self-motivated little person.

And, actually, let’s drop the “little” part. Every single individual possesses his or her own unique size.

With all this said, I know one thing is for sure. If not for my size, I wouldn’t receive nearly as much attention or as many opportunities.

One of them came last year.

The university picked me to appear with a few other students on President Antoine Garibaldi’s official UDM Christmas card.

I’ve been chosen for commercial shoots for campus-wide advertising campaigns, too.

It works in my favor, giving me more positive publicity.

But, to be frank, it provides even more positive public relations for the University of Detroit Mercy due to the fact that I effectively represent the diverse population groups that can be found on campus on a daily basis.

Diversity is a key asset and calling card for UDM. It’s a large recruiting ploy.

Until I grow a foot and become five-foot-six (which I don’t see happening anytime soon), I’m going to continue to soak all the opportunities I can garner as the littlest “little man” on the campus of the University of Detroit Mercy.