Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I used to believe that until the words began to wound me. They pierced my heart.
I’m nineteen and in college. Other students stare at me and make remarks like, “She’s so dark”, “None of my black guy friends would date her because she’s way too dark.” “I feel sorry for her. I would rather not be born at all than to go through life with such black skin,” “I don’t believe in abortion but I would have made an exception in her case if I were her mother.”
I read a really sad story about an Indian woman who committed suicide because of her husband’s taunts about her dark skin. While my heart went out to her, I was determined not to let people’s cruel and insensitive remarks cause me to take my life. Life is so precious. It is a gift from God and I’m going to use my life to bring glory to Him. He created me with dark skin. I was fashioned in His image with great care and love. The remarks hurt but I have decided that I’m not going to let them get me down anymore.
I have a few friends who don’t care about the color of my skin. One of them gets teased because she is very fair–her skin looks like alabaster. When students see us together, they call us Ebony and Ivory. Once, it so happened that my History professor, Mr. Sayegh was in the classroom when he heard them. He came out into the hallway and reprimanded them sharply. We later found out that they were warned that if they harassed us again they would face suspension or even detention.
After class I stayed behind to thank Mr. Sayegh. He said to me, “I cannot tolerate racism, discrimination or any type of harassment. College is an institute of learning and all students should feel safe when they come here.”
“I have been subjected to this kind of thing all of my life and it still hurts.”
“Yes, I imagine that it would. Racism will never go away, unfortunately.”
“No. It’s one of the evils in this world.”
“Sabrina, have you ever heard of Knobby noses?”
I stared at him. “No, Professor Sayegh.”
“Knobby noses are actually caused by Rhinophyma which is a skin disorder which causes the nose to become enlarged and bulbous. My father had surgery to correct the problem and this is the result. He had it done by the Toronto Plastic Surgeons because they have a reputation of being well-versed in rhinoplasty procedures. With most surgeries, there were risks but so far, he hasn’t had any had any issues. After the operation, he couldn’t overexert himself, blow his nose or sneeze. He had to keep his head elevated and take pain medication or Antihistamines as needed.”
“What caused it?”
“The exact cause of rhinophyma is unknown although, in the past, some people believed that alcohol consumption could lead to the condition. The risk factors include a family history of rosacea, being male and being middle-aged. My father got it when he was 60. It’s possible that I could get it too.”
“What does it look like?”
“Here, let me show you.” He took out his cell. He showed me a close up image of a man’s nose which was extremely large and red. The skin looked raw. His cheeks were red and puffy.
I recoiled but not in horror or disgust but from the shock of seeing how horribly this skin condition disfigured a person’s face and it scared me that it could one day happen to him.
“It looks repulsive, doesn’t it?” he remarked as he closed the images and Google.
“I’m not repulsed by it. I feel sorry for the man in the image and for your father.”
“It was hard for him and for my mother when he became depressed. It was hard seeing a man who was usually so full of life like that. I did my research and found out that while there were medications for it, surgery is often the best option for long-term treatment of rhinophyma. So, I encouraged my father to have the surgery.”
“I remember once wishing that if there was a surgery to lighten my skin and then, I felt very ashamed for thinking that. I felt that my thought must have hurt God because He made me dark like this.”
“He made you that shade for a good reason. And to Him it is a beautiful shade. Remember when God created the world, He looked at His creation and saw that it was good. When He created you, He looked at you and saw that you were exactly how He envisioned you to be. The psalmist wrote, ‘You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit them together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! It is amazing to think about. Your workmanship is marvelous—and how well I know it. You were there while I was being formed in utter seclusion! You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book!‘ That is how God saw you, Sabrina.”
His words touched my heart. “I guess I never thought it like that,” I said.
“That’s because too often we see ourselves the way people do instead of the way God does. Try looking at yourself through His eyes for a change.”
“I’m glad that your father was able to have the surgery.”
“So am I. He still has to be careful now, though. There are potential triggers which he must avoid hot foods and beverages, spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine, very hot or very cold temperatures, exposure to sunlight, emotional stress and anxiety and strenuous exercise in order to limit flare-ups.”
“Wow. I hope he doesn’t have any flare ups.”
“Nor do I.”
“Do you worry that you will get the condition when you turn 60?”
“I can get it as early as 50. Yes, I worry about it sometimes but there’s nothing I can do except to avoid the same things that my father’s does which could trigger the condition.”
I looked at his nose. It was a nice strong nose on a very handsome face. I wondered what he would do if he knew that I was secretly in love with him. Probably feel sorry for me. “Thanks for telling me about your father. It helps me to put things into perspective. I’m comfortable in my skin.”
“This may seem inappropriate for a professor to say to his student but I think you’re very pretty, Sabrina. You have beautiful eyes and flawless skin. Black is beautiful. It’s another shade of God’s love.”
I smiled. I couldn’t believe that he thought I was very pretty or that I have beautiful eyes and flawless skin. What I was feeling inside must have shown on my face because he was looking at me strangely. “Thank you, Professor Sayegh,” I said. “I’ve taken up enough of your time.”
I was about to turn and walk away when he said to me, “I know that I’m your teacher but any time you need a friend to talk to, I’m available.”
I smiled. “Thank you, Professor Sayegh.” I left the classroom, feeling extremely happy and excited. I didn’t care about those students and their nasty remarks any more. Something good had come out of it. I had a friend in Professor Sayegh.
He and I met after school several times and went to the park or to a cafe where we could talk about all sorts of things. I loved being with him. He was so easy to talk to. People stared at us but we didn’t care. Our friendship and teacher/student relationship soon blossomed into something else. On the day I graduated, we officially began to date. His family didn’t approve of me but that didn’t make any difference to him.
“I love you, Sabrina,” he told me. “And I’m going to spend the rest of my life with you irregardless of what they say.”
Ten years later, we are happily married with two children–a boy and a girl. At school whenever my daughter has to color a picture of me, she proudly uses the black crayon, letting her classmates and teacher know that, “My Mommy is black and beautiful.” She and her brother have learned from their father and me that love isn’t skin deep.
Karam and I don’t talk much about the possibility of him getting Rhinophyma but we know that if it should happen, we will deal with it together with God’s help.