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The Silver Lining

Written by: Wesley Sanders, FACES Outreach Coordinator

When my sister and I were born with a craniofacial syndrome requiring years of medical intervention, the hearts of my parents and brothers were forever changed. Their new realities took them on a journey beyond grief. "The Twins" now required more of the families' time and attention. Through the inexplicable loss of normalcy and tragedy of loss, I must say there is a silver lining to having a facial difference. 


Some twelve or so years ago, I headed towards a local bookstore with my mom for a Saturday afternoon browse. My dad's childhood best friend owned the bookstore, and I always liked popping in to say hello to him. I remember walking in and seeing an unfamiliar older gentleman setting up books for customers to buy. I gave him a coy smile and turned away from him and back toward my mom on the pretext of needing to show her "something." At the time, I was still recovering from an extended hospital stay, and being around people I was unfamiliar with was difficult.


The older gentleman immediately started joking with me and asked some bizarre questions. I didn't know it then, but he was Pat Conroy, the author of "Beach Music," "The Water is Wide," "The Great Santini," and other books made into Oscar-winning movies. Pat Conroy used his stories to explore life's great themes.


In some ways, our lives were parallel. We both lived in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Pat Conroy graduated and taught English at the same high school I graduated from. He went to a military college in the same city where I graduated from.


He knew my family were farmers and shrimpers, and Mr. Conroy shared his story of farming at the Packing Shed as a young boy. After our initial meeting at the local bookstore that day, he followed us to the island and visited my childhood home. We had the front door open, and Chowan Creek's salt-laden air invited us outside to hang out on the steps of our house facing the tomato fields. I don't remember the time of year and whether tomato season was still around, but I remember my brother was applying for colleges and hoped to apply to Clemson and the College of Charleston. One of his applications required an essay where you use one word to describe yourself. Pat promised my brother that he would give him a call with a word he had in mind to write his essay. And, he did call with that one word.


After our first meeting, he came to our home every so often to share stories and give my sister and me presents from the local jewelry store. He attended my high school graduation party and became influential to me during my teenage years.


Porch hangouts haven't been a part of my day-to-day routine for quite some time, though I fondly remember Pat Conroy when I sit on the steps and feel the salty breeze. I always admired his ability to expose the painful truths of his own life. And it's moments like these that I am, in some ways, thankful for looking different when often it can be physically and emotionally painful. I have created many positive relationships because people are curious about my life. And Pat Conroy was just one of them. He invited himself into my life and the life of my family. For that, I'm always thankful.

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FACES: The National Craniofacial Association
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