The secret in Johnny's eyes

Published 06, Jan, 2017
Author // Félix Garmendía

As New York poz guy Félix Garmendía relates, sometimes a chance meeting can put us back in touch with what's best and most important about others and ourselves.

The secret in Johnny's eyes

I enjoy the holiday season but as a secular humanist (i.e. pagan, lol), I don’t attribute any spiritual weight to the season. Yes, I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year and I also enjoy eating potato latkes with sour cream and applesauce on New Year’s Day. I do admit however that I haven’t quite figured out Kwanzaa yet. Even though I’m not particularly spiritual when it comes to this season, I’m all for the “tidings of comfort and joy” part of the season.

A few days before Christmas, I was bored just hanging around the apartment so we decided to pay a visit to our local Indian restaurant for some Christmas curry. Just outside the restaurant, my wheelchair started to make some weird noises. My husband, Denis knelt down to investigate. While Denis was attending to the wheelchair noise, I noticed a middle-aged man seated near the window inside the restaurant. He was watching us and when our eyes met, he smiled and waved.

When the wheelchair issue was resolved, we headed into the restaurant. Denis went ahead to help set up our table to accommodate my wheelchair and I found myself right next to the friendly man who had waved at us. He was seated with an attractive lady and a child in a wheelchair. I smiled and said hello and introduced myself as I very often do in my neighborhood. The man first introduced his wife, the mother of the child and then he introduced his wheelchair-bound son, Johnny.

As we chatted, I couldn’t help but notice that Johnny appeared to be very frail. He was about 10 years old. His skin was pale and he was bald. I realized that Johnny was indeed very ill.

As he raised his skinny arm to say hello to me our eyes locked. I was immediately overwhelmed by this child’s sweet demeanor and keen intent to say “hello” to me. I connected immediately with his fragility, his sweet smile, the delicate thread of kindness and innocence in those beautiful bright eyes.

"I found the meaning of Christmas just in time to remind myself of how lucky I have been in my own journey. I will forever be thankful to this precious child and his message of peace."

Despite his obvious illness, he was full of life, indeed full of joy. Prior to my meeting with Johnny and his lovely family I had been preoccupied with issues regarding my own mobility. As much as I hated to accept it, I had been noticing that I had been having problems doing my daily, routine tasks at home. I had been feeling hints of fear and sadness as my Inclusion Body Myositis was seriously affecting my right arm and hand. It appeared that the last of my limbs that still can work on its own, was showing obvious signs of deterioration.

This prognosis is not a surprise to me. I have read enough to know what the outcome of my condition most likely will be. Maybe this is the main reason why, though I seemed to be surrounded by happy people during the holiday season, I was not feeling happy myself.

So there I was, looking into the eyes of a sick child, a sweet new life that might be cut short, and I was feeling sorry for myself. Suddenly, I felt emotionally overwhelmed I and said goodbye to this very lovely, special family. I wished them a happy holiday season and headed to our table.

Denis was already there waiting for me and when I arrived I couldn’t help it any longer and I began to cry. As the tears flowed, I was speechless. I knew why I was crying. Meeting Johnny was not a coincidence. Johnny had a purpose in my life.

As I pondered the depth of my interaction with Johnny, I realized that even though I am an atheist, this holiday season had just taught me a lesson about life. I had just turned 55 years old, Johnny was about ten. I have lived a life full of adventure and pleasures that would put Dionysus and maybe even the Kardashians to shame. I was indeed losing track of my own reality.

That reality being that this life has been very kind to me. I have loved and been loved many times, by many people. I managed to travel around the world a bit. I’ve educated myself over the course of my life and career. I know the importance of beauty, art and kindness in this world. I have lived intensely and will continue to do so!

I’m glad and grateful that this life has given me the opportunity to experience the wonders of love. That was my connection with Johnny. I can’t help but believe that we are both protected by the power of love. I immediately recognized the beautiful commitment and love those parents had for him. Johnny was unconditionally loved, comforted and sheltered. Despite his circumstances, Johnny exuded peace, even joy. His bright little eyes were not focused on the obvious, daily challenges of his disability. This precious little family generated peace, love and hope.

I found the meaning of Christmas just in time to remind myself of how lucky I have been in my own journey. I will forever be thankful to this precious child and his message of peace. Maybe I wasn’t that far away from the true meaning of the original Christmas story, the story centered on the presence of a precious child as a gift to the whole world. I know now that Johnny’s gift to me will forever be part of all my future holiday seasons, and for that, I am truly grateful and (dare I say it), blessed. 

About the Author

Félix Garmendía

Félix Garmendía

"I was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico in the 60s. Living in Puerto Rico, and growing up there was a bumpy process. I was very aware of my homosexual identity at a very early age, so fighting the stigma was a very intense journey in my native island.

I love art. The Ponce Art Museum was my shelter since I was in high school. As my first job ever, I guided bilingual tours for locals and tourists from all over the world.

In high school, I was introduced to music and theater, after that, I chose to pursue a B.A. in theater at the U.P.R. ( University of Puerto Rico ). Rio Piedras campus.

In college, I discovered many things about myself. My sexual identity became established, my religious beliefs changed dramatically and my awareness of my role in society became the first and biggest challenge of my life. I became a proud gay man, an atheist and an activist. The political climate in Puerto Rico was very far away from recognizing any kind of gay rights so I knew that I needed a community that I could call my own, and be myself. After several years in Puerto Rico, in my twenties, I moved to N.Y.C. to pursue a Master’s Degree in Art Education and Art Criticism at New York University. I decided to stay in Manhattan. Here I found myself. I discovered my passions, causes to fight for, and the strong community that I always dreamed of. I became a passionate man with strong convictions.

After graduation I became a N.Y.C. school teacher. I taught art in the South Bronx, Spanish Harlem and Upper Manhattan for 15 years.

Sometime in my twenties, I was exposed to HIV. I tested HIV-positive and after a serious depression, came out strong and victorious. I became an AIDS activist. My passions in life became the gears that fed energy into my existence.

Very early in my N.Y.C. years, I became a staunch liberal. All my causes were related. I was trying to survive in a world where not everybody cared if I did or not. Politics made clear who cared for me as a human being.

That’s why I’m very vocal about my postings. Not because I want to convince anybody, but I do it for those who, like me, once needed some direction in life. I want to share the "real" me with those friends with similar beliefs or at least respect for my beliefs.

Today, I still live in Manhattan. I’m legally married to my husband Denis Beale and I’m disabled. My life is not easy, I have several health related conditions that are a real challenge these days. This bring me to another one of my causes. From personal experience, I believe in the legalization of cannabis (marijuana). 

I consider myself a loving, compassionate and spiritual person. I have no patience for bigotry, especially the kind of sanctimonious bigotry that wraps itself in prayer and fake compassion.

This is a synopsis of who I am. It would be really helpful to start introducing myself with my favorite warning. Warning: I’m human, far from perfect, passionate about life, the pursue of difficult answers, and the conviction that we are all equal."

Felix has been featured in The Huffington Post’s Queer Voices; see the piece here

You can follow Felix on Facebook here or here, on twitter @PozHeart and also on Instagram, here.