We’ve all heard the cliché: don’t judge a book by its cover. I love when perception and stereotypes are contradicted. Earlier this summer, as I was walking through a shopping center, my husband and I were approached by an old man who practically ran out of his car, saying, “You want to see something neat?”
As a writer, my mind is always stirring up possibilities, often thinking up worst-case scenarios. So of course, my mind immediately began: the old man didn’t look distressed, so my immediate thought was that he was part of a scam. My brain flashed back to kindergarten. Stranger danger. Beware of strangers offering tempting things. He would be the perfect bait, wouldn’t he, a seemingly harmless old man to distract us while some sinister plot was carried out by his partner to…
But before my mind could continue, he was standing two feet from us, holding out a plastic sleeve containing a $100 bill. As it turned out, he’d been to the bank to make deposits, and one of the bills he had tucked away turned out to be from 1934. The teller had caught the ancient bill and suggested that he might want to keep it. (A quick Internet search tells me they are worth a little more than $100, but it seems the man was more enamored with the romanticism of it all.)
I’ll admit, a part of me was still wondering if this was a scam: was he going to try to sell us the bill for more than its $100 face value?
“Almost 80, and it’s the first one I’ve seen!” he said proudly, displaying the clear plastic sleeve. “I’m almost 80, and this is the first I saw,” he repeated. “And when I saw you coming—” he said, motioning to our toddler, as if he wanted to include her in the experience—“I just knew I had to show you!”
I was glad my initial thoughts turned out to be wrong. What I perceived as a possible scam artist was just a happy old man wanting to share his discovery. He kept repeating the number of years it had taken him to see such a unique bill, and the way his eyes included us in the conversation made it clear that he especially wanted to share the bill with the toddler: what had taken him nearly 80 years to see, she could experience before age 2. We thanked him and continued on, and when he watched us go the magic in his eyes was almost tangible.
Later, on vacation, I was watching the PBS show Splash and Bubbles with my toddler. We don’t’ have cable, so we hadn’t seen the show before. Imagine my thrill when the main characters—fish and their friends—said they were in search of sea dragons. The entire episode was full of talk of what the scary dragons would look like.
I knew right away they would encounter the friendly, beautiful leafy seadragons.
I’ve already blogged about leafy seadragons here: They are similar to seahorses, but they are covered in leafy appendages that make them blend in with kelp, making them one of the most amazing animals I’ve ever seen.
Leafy seadragons play a role in my young adult novel The Girl Who Flew Away. In the novel, the protagonist is often so worried about appearances that she doesn’t always consider what lies beneath. It’s a lesson we’re always learning. In our busy lives, it’s easy to make a quick judgment, categorize, and move on. But the true magic of this life is when we dig deeper, and see the uniqueness of each individual—regardless of their “cover.”