He comes walking across the parking lot, sort of waddling in a strange side to side fashion. Almost a limp. Yet he has an athletic build and walks with a great deal of energy. Almost as if he was once a track star or athlete and an old injury keeps him from really showing off any more. In his mid-forties, about six feet tall, with dark hair, he has a grin on his narrow face that almost never leaves. He enters the dinning room of our restaurant, stepping confidently in his running shoes and jeans toward the front counter. He smiles warmly at the first employee that catches his gaze. His smile is very endearing and has a way of causing his eyes to disappear.
But even if his eyes were visible he probably wouldn’t look right at you for longer than one second at a time. This man has an unusual habit of darting his gaze back and forth as he is speaking to someone, sort of talking as he moves his head up and down, blinking constantly. It’s a very fidgety, quick-moving sort of habit. All the time smiling so big and friendly that you begin to wonder what makes him so happy. In fact, the longer you know him the more you have things that make you wonder.
When I first met Mr. Ted, I am somewhat ashamed to say, I assumed he was mentally handicapped somehow, or at least a little socially autistic. I mean, he walked in an unusual way, smiled very often, and blinked almost incessantly when he spoke to anyone. I figured he was maybe one of those who are bright enough to get out in the world a little, but whose parents still care for their basic needs. Or they just sent him in from the car with a $10 bill for his lunch.
And he does order exactly, EXACTLY the same thing every single day. The only variation is in the size of his ice cream! And I don’t mean just every time he comes in. I mean that each day he comes in at lunch time and orders the same thing….every time. (More people do this than you might think.)
So forgive me for misjudging him, but you might have also. Looking at this eccentric, friendly, energetic, direct sort of man, you wouldn’t really guess from looking at him that he is, in truth, probably one of the smartest people in the room. He really doesn’t let on by his appearance or manner than he is a professor of law at the local state university. Or that before he started teaching corporate law he practiced criminal law for many years. Nor would you figure that he drives a very nice sports car and has a beautiful, young-looking, graceful wife with a good sense of humor. (Not the kind of woman who marries a “mentally handicapped” man.)
Over time I have discovered all these things about Mr. Ted and have been surprised and pleased to find my “first glance” to be misguided. What appears to us upon first glance to be a simple man of pleasant disposition and limited intelligence is actually a well read and successful man of pleasant disposition and more intelligence than most of the people I have met. Though somewhat eccentric, my observation is that he is probably a genius.
So the portrait of Mr. Ted, if seen from a distance, might look like a child’s painting of a rather odd uncle. But upon further inspection we find that it is actually the work of a master, with nuance of technique and meaning that are only visible to the person that takes the time to look closely.
Let’s all take the time to look closely at the “portraits” around us, and not assume that what is on the cover is the actual content of the book.