Opening My Eyes

The last few differents Ella has given me have been way out of my comfort zone. I’ve felt scared, exhilarated, unsure and giddy. Yet today’s different was a whole new experience. It totally. Slowed. Me. Down. And not just physically. It actually changed the way I processed things mentally. It made me come to a dead stop and think.

Today I was blindfolded for the day. I couldn’t see anything, and had to adjust the way I did regular things. The morning started off pretty well. Brushing my teeth was easy; the challenge was getting the toothpaste on the toothbrush. I didn’t worry about what my hair looked like because I just threw it in a ponytail. Getting dressed was manageable because it was just like getting dressed in the dark. So what if pouring the milk on my cereal wasn’t totally successful… when I say not successful, I mean it was a disaster. The milk, it was everywhere.

But when Ella took me downtown, my whole perspective changed. As I walked down my street to the bus stop, I kicked over three garbage cans. When we crossed the street, I tripped on the curb and skinned my knee. When the bus pulled up, Ella had to guide me up the steps to get on and she had to help me to pay my fare. Downtown people rushed by, jostling me around left and right like a ball in a pinball machine. I felt frustrated, impatient, and dependent all day.

There are many people in the world who are visually impaired. Were these some of the things they experienced each day? What would it be like to live in their shoes?
Travelling on the bus or a plane would be difficult. Handling money would be hard. Do workplaces provide special tools for employees? Are social innovators trying to invent wearable technologies that help visually impaired people to see? How did my life become so insulated that this was all new to me? I was embarrassed I’d never considered this before. Hadn’t been more aware. Hadn’t listened more carefully. Maybe even hadn’t been more helpful when asked.

This different made me think in ways I should have been thinking before. How could I be part of creating change? What action could I take to make society more inclusive? As teenagers, we sometimes feel insignificant. Invisible. But we actually have serious power. For example, we know how to get messages out. Email. Tweeting. Blogs. We could write a politician. Start a petition. Volunteer. Join a local advocacy group. Walk in a protest march. There’s so many ways we can raise our voices and step up to make the world a more inclusive and empathetic place. We aren’t just the leaders of tomorrow. We can actually be leaders today!


Circus School: Juggling 101

Before I tried it, I told Ella that today’s different was totally lame. I had basically been juggling my whole life. In fact, I’d always had tons of balls in the air. School assignments. Essays. Babysitting opportunities. Tests. School sports. Studying for exams. Oliver’s cranky requests for help. Jobs around the house. So while this was a whole new type of juggling, how hard could it really be?
Juggle Ellen Page
The sign at the door of the school said “We promise with an hour of your time, three balls and our instruction, you will learn to juggle”. I rolled my eyes. Please. 15 minutes max was all that was needed for this different.
Was I ever wrong.
When the class started, the instructor explained that juggling was a fantastic way to improve reflexes, relieve stress and get exercise. Not sure standing in one place juggling was exercise but I wasn’t going to argue his point. He handed out beanbags to the class. BEANBAGS!! LOL! I hadn’t seen a beanbag since I was in Grade 3. Come on. Where were the knives? The firesticks? Bring on the real danger!
After a quick demonstration, we were taught the “cascading pattern” and sent off to practice. Right hand to left. Switch. Right hand to left. Switch. After 10 minutes, the only things cascading were my beanbags all over the floor. After 20 minutes, I started to get it. The “less thinking and more feeling” thing really worked. Maybe that customer satisfaction guarantee was true.
Harry Styles Juggling
The balls and pins came out next. They were definitely way bigger and heavier than the beanbags. I picked up the pins and took a deep breath. One. Two. Three. Pins flew everywhere! “Less thinking, more feeling” was no longer applicable. This needed a whole new level of hand-eye coordination. I gathered the pins from the floor and tried again. Another epic fail.
juggle fail
It was good to know gravity still worked and at least I didn’t hit someone this time! The third time was the charm. Only one pin fell to the floor and I had two pins left in my hands! Progress!
The hour flew by. There’s no way I would ever be signing up for a full time job in the circus. But if someone called in sick, I’d be open to a guest appearance if requested.


The Trick to Flying Is Falling First

Okay, I had to hand it to Ella. Not just for arranging this different but setting it up in a way that made it better— worse— at once. Our day started with a long drive and a jarring shock. As she pulled into the parking lot of the Niagara Skydive Centre my head exploded like the gravel under the tires. This had to be a joke. Skydiving? Why did she think I would even consider this? Really? Absolutely no way. Not in a million years.

I turned to look at her and she had this big goofy grin off her face and started laughing hysterically. Then she explained. How was I supposed to known this was a total set up? Her uncontrollable laughter was so annoying, but at that point, with my whole body shaking like a leaf, I had to admit it was also a relief. Phew! My best friend didn’t really want to give me a heart attack and throw me out of a plane. We drove off toward the real different but she still wouldn’t tell me what it was.

We drove another twenty minutes and then pulled into the Indoor Skydiving Centre in Niagara Falls— real different. She had done this on purpose to make the different less scary— it worked. I was nervous but not terrified.

We went inside. There was somebody flying. She was wearing a helmet and this incredibly ugly orange safety. What kind of fashion statement was that? It looked like some type of retro jumpsuit from the ‘80s. OMG. And then when I finally got one on, well, the smell. Who had been wearing that thing?

I’d like to tell you that I bravely stepped straight into the wind tunnel, but I was still nervous, bundled into the smelly safety suit. I could do this. Could I do this? Could I?!

Yes. Yes, I could.

The instructor called it free-fall but the fall was really only three feet up. What if I fell? The worst I could have done was sprain an ankle, or bruise my pride, which was way less damage than free-falling out of a plane at ten thousand feet!

I stood on the pad. I heard the click of the air stream coming on. My mouth went dry, cold air started to flow beneath me, and I felt a surge of adrenaline course through my body. I leaned forward. My hair was instantly blown back and the skin of my face started flapping in the wind. Not a nice image. For anyone.

I remember thinking to myself “Come on, Sophie. Lean forward, lean forward.” I moved forward and as I did, I felt myself being thrown sideways. I landed hard on my butt. Darn it. I shut my eyes and psyched myself up, “Get up, Soph… on. Get up. You’ve got this.”

I took a deep breath and leaned into the wind again. With a little help from the instructor to keep my balance, my feet eventually lifted off the ground and I was flying. I was flying! I was doing this! I WAS FLYING!!!!


“Buddy the Elf” Different, a.k.a. Day 8

Today was the fastest different so far. So fast I didn’t even have time to get scared. Maybe a little nervous. But not much.

First floor— ground floor. Seventeen stories from the top. That had been one of the things Ella and I had a disagreement about. I wanted it to be a four-story building and she wanted it to be forty-four. We compromised on eighteen.

Ella and I brushed through the doors of the downtown office tower and waited by the bank of elevators on the ground floor. All around us were people waiting to get on and go up. I snuck a discreet sideways glance. Amongst the crowd there was an impatient older man with a bulging briefcase of files. A young woman reading a well-worn book. A middle-aged woman checking her phone and nervously biting her nails. The doors opened and we rushed inside. They reached around me and pressed the buttons of their preferred floor.

The elevators doors closed. I quickly reached out and pressed every button from Floor 3 to 18. The panel lit up. It looked just like a summer fireworks display! My heart was racing, and I wondered if the people behind me were judging me. Ha! Who cares? Judge away.

I stifled the laughter rising up in my throat. Couldn’t even look at Ella because I knew I would lose it. Hurry up, hurry up. Get to Floor 3! My brain was burning. Like when you eat a huge scoop of ice cream and then get that nasty painful brain freeze feeling.

Ping! The doors opened at Floor 3. Ella shoved me hard from behind and we spilled out in the hallway. As the elevator doors closed, I saw the people inside look at the panel. Shock? Disgust? One of them rolled their eyes. The elevator doors closed and Ella and I ran down the hall laughing hysterically. Happy riding!