Ugly or Pretty?

Who is this balding man with two presents, one in each hand? One is small, dirty, and newspaper wrapped. The other is wrapped in iridescent paper that reflects sunlight from the window in pink shades of rainbow, with a glistening red bow atop a much larger box.

“Which present would you want?” the man asked.

We were a class of second graders. How old are you in second grade? Seven, eight?

Mallory B. cried in math that morning because she didn’t understand 0 + 0 = 0. “Why would anyone add two zeros? IT IS ALREADY ZERO! IT IS NOTHING!” she sobbed.

Some kids teased her.

I thought she was deep.

“What present would you want?” the man asked again.

I thought: How could I possibly know? I do not know what is inside of them. How, then, could I know which one I wanted?

The man raised up the large, beautifully wrapped gift. “Raise your hand if you want this one,” he said.

All of the kids but me, and a boy named Allen raised their hands.

I panicked. I didn’t want to stand out, to be teased. I raised my hand half way.

“Now, who wants this gift?” The man held up the small box wrapped in newspaper.

Allen raised his hand, a snicker on his face.

“Okay, young man, now you get this gift. Open it.”

Allen opened the small box full of what must have been an entire bag of mini candy bars. Snickers. Appropriate.

The man in front of the class opened the large, pretty box to reveal wads of paper garbage and packing peanuts. “Now the rest of you may share what is in this box,” he said.  Groans of disappointment traveled through the room.

Allen didn’t share candy bars with anyone.

I am sure the man in front of our second grade class was trying to teach us something important about judging people by looks. But maybe he should have filled both of the boxes with candy bars, and we could have learned not to see or judge appearances at all as ugly or pretty, and only see people.

Allen grew up to be a plastic surgeon.

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