Different on the Outside by Melissa Forney
The time is December 4, 1982 and the place is Melbourne, Australia. After nine long months of waiting, the big day was here! Dushka and Boris Vujicic (pronounced Voy-uh-Chich) were finally in the delivery room for the birth of their first baby. They were excited, picturing the adventures they would enjoy together when their tiny son grew into a boy.
But Dushka and Boris were not prepared for the huge shock they were about to receive. When baby Nick was born, he was healthy and alert but different than most babies: Nick was born with no arms and no legs.
Boris took Dushka in his arms. They wept for their son. They knew this baby would have a hard life. Ordinary tasks would be impossible for him. He would never run and play like other kids. He would never swim or kick a soccer ball. All of their hopes and dreams suddenly seemed ridiculous. This child would be helpless.
While his parents cried, Nick stared around the delivery room and blinked his bright little eyes. He had a beautiful face and a natural curiosity. He wiggled with new life. Arms? Legs? He had no idea they were missing. Boris wiped his tears. He hugged Dushka. “God must have a purpose for this baby’s life,” he said. “We will give him all the love and support he needs.”
As Nick grew into boyhood, his parents helped him learn to do things for himself. Since he couldn’t walk, Nick hopped and bounced to get where he wanted to go in the house. Outside, he used a wheelchair or balanced his belly on a skateboard. He learned to wedge things between his chin and his neck since he didn’t have hands for holding. Each new skill was celebrated as a victory.
“You have a fertile mind,” Dushka said. “You will be a good student at school.”
School! Nick looked forward to going to school. He could hardly wait to be around the laughter and fun of other children. Some students were welcoming, but others laughed at his lack of arms and legs. They tormented him by calling him “weirdo” and other names. Nick was shocked. His situation was already hard. Why would some kids want to make it harder? Nick knew that he was different on the outside, but on the inside he felt just like everyone else. He was crushed.
Nick begged to stay home from school. His mother told him to talk to the other kids. Nick did, and some of them became his friends. But he still sunk into despair and depression when he realized he couldn’t play sports, participate in physical games, or do most of the things other kids did. I will never be able to do sports…or have someone fall in love with me…or be in the movies…or be great. I’ll never have children of my own. Mom and Dad will die some day and there will be no one to take care of me. Nick thought every negative thought he could imagine. He felt like giving up. He didn’t even want to live anymore.
Nick’s mother showed him a newspaper article about a man who was also coping with a serious physical disability. Nick realized he wasn’t the only person who had been born different. His whole attitude changed, and he felt a new purpose. Maybe I can live a pretty good life after all, he thought. Maybe God can use me even if I have this crazy body with no arms and legs.
Where one of his legs should have been, Nick had part of a foot and two toes. He put a pen between his toes and taught himself to write. He learned to type on a computer keyboard with his toes. Before long, he could get a glass of water, comb his hair, brush his teeth, and answer the phone. He even learned to throw a tennis ball.
At school, Nick’s can-do attitude was infectious. Other students were inspired by what he could do. He was eventually elected Captain of his school and became a leader in school projects. He played the electronic drums in the high school band. He graduated with his class and went right on to college, where he continued to do well.
Nick had never forgotten the terrible feeling of being bullied when he was younger. He knew what it was like to feel totally alone and depressed. If I felt that way, there have to be other kids who feel the same way. I need to tell them that there is hope. Nick began speaking to teens and kids at school assemblies, church congregations, clubs, and organizations. Everywhere he went, people were amazed. At the start of each meeting, a friend would stand Nick on a
raised table down front so everyone could see him. As Nick began to speak, the audience listened with absolute attention. “I know what it feels like to be bullied. I know what it feels like to be different. If I can overcome my problems, you can overcome yours,” Nick said. “Stop bullying. Be nicer to each other. If someone puts you down, get a second opinion!” He loved to make audiences laugh. “I don’t have a problem with curiosity. When kids ask why I don’t have arms and legs, I whisper, ‘cigarettes!’ Curiosity is okay. Bullying, name calling, is not.”
At the end of his motivational speeches, Nick invited everyone to come by for a hug. Thousands upon thousands of kids have hugged Nick — so many that he has lost count. Today Nick Vujicic holds the Guinness World Records for the most hugs in one hour: 1,749!
At 33 years old, Nick’s story has just begun. He surfs, skydives, golfs, and travels the world. He has met AIDS victims in Africa, heads of corporations, billionaires, and the President of the United States. Nick received special recognition for his performance in the award-winning movie, The Butterfly Circus. As a motivational speaker, he still meets kids from many countries and has written several books about his life and mission to help others.
While speaking in Texas, Nick met a beautiful young woman named Kanae, and the two of them fell madly in love. “It was her gorgeous, wise eyes,” Nick says. He and Kanae were married in February of 2012, and eventually Nick was back in the delivery room: they now have two boys and twin girls. By all accounts they are a happy, happy family.
All of the fears Nick had as a child — that wonderful things would never happen for him — have vanished one by one. “Life is not easy,” Nick says, “but it can be rewarding for every one of us. If you fall down, get back up. Never stop. Never quit. There is a purpose for every life.”
Aaron, He Sang by Melissa Forney
One thunderous, stormy night, while the wind howled and screamed outside, all the babies howled and screamed inside the newborn baby nursery. Except Aaron. He sang. He opened his tiny mouth, filled his lungs with air, and let loose. The nursery was flooded with the sweetest lullaby, soothing and soft, lilting and lulling. All the other babies stopped howling and started to listen.
Aaron’s parents were watching from the big window outside the nursery. “It’s Aaron,” they said.
When Aaron was learning to take his first running steps, he went on a picnic with his parents.
They brought stale bread to feed the birds down by the lake.
The ducks opened their yellow bills and quacked for crackers.
The geese strutted in circles and honked for hamburger buns.
“Honk-a, Honk-a, Hoodley-Honk!“
The swans stretched their necks and hissed for sandwich rolls.
But not Aaron. He sang. He sang all ten verses of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
His e-i-e-i-o’s were particularly pleasing. The birds stopped pecking and turned to see the
When Aaron was a little boy, able to dress all by himself, he went to a family reunion with his aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins. The men threw horseshoes and argued about the price of new cars. The women rested under canopies and traded recipes. The big boys played catch on the ball field. The girls waved to each other from the tops of trees.
A breeze whistled across the field and up through the branches, over the women and through
the men. Everyone laughed.
But not Aaron. He sang. He threw his head back into the wind, closed his eyes, and sang for all he was worth. His song took flight and sailed to the skies. His family searched with their eyes to see which child had made such a wonder.
When Aaron lost his baby fat and grew a little older, he went to school with all the other boys and girls. He learned how to find Australia and Costa Rica on the globe. He learned to spell aardvark and onomatopoeia. He painted pictures at the easel and ate corndogs in the cafeteria.
But out on the playground, where kids should have all the fun in the world, a bully made life
miserable for everyone. He snatched the ball and hogged the slide and kicked sand on anyone who came near. The boys and girls whispered and worried and kept their distance.
But not Aaron. When the bully pushed Aaron in the chest, pushed him so hard he had to step backwards, Aaron stared him right in the eyes. He opened his mouth and hit a high C so loud that all other noise on the playground stopped. The bully backed up, covering his ears. “That kid has some lungs,” he said.
When Aaron lost his two front baby teeth and grew in new ones that looked like butter beans, he went to the river to swim and play with his best friend, Jake. They dived and jumped and swung from vines, making gigantic splashes in the water. Aaron and Jake decided to jump from the low bridge that crossed over the river. They leaped at exactly the same time, and on the way down Jake screamed like a banshee.
But not Aaron. He belted out the last line of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
“O’er the land of the free————————”
He finished the song on the bottom, blowing bubbles that grew bigger and bigger as they rose to the surface. A single, solitary voice rose from the bottom of the river.
When Aaron started growing by leaps and bounds, so fast his mother couldn’t keep him in shoes, he wanted to get a job so he’d have some spending money. Since he wasn’t old enough for a real job, a nice lady who ran a rundown bait shop hired him to sort crabs. “Watch out now,” she warned. “They’ll pinch you proper.” The huge blue crabs stared at Aaron with beady eyes and blew bubbles from strange-looking mouths.
One fat crab reached around when Aaron wasn’t looking and pinched him on the thumb. The crab hung on for dear life, refusing to let go. The nice lady might have screamed if this had happened to her, but not Aaron. He jumped up on a wooden crate and sang the entire scale of D major at the top of his lungs. He swung his arm round and round, over his head, and when he got to the last note of the scale, the crab let go and went flying through the air, never to be seen again.
When Aaron was a bigger boy, about the time when serious mischief sets in, he did naughty things that big boys sometimes do. One bright, sunny afternoon, when no one was looking, he climbed
the water tower with the name of the town painted on its side. This was forbidden, incredibly
dangerous even, and Aaron knew better. But, he climbed anyway, all the way to the top
“Come down,” his friends shouted. Their voices sounded like mice.
Aaron was so high he could see the entire town, and it was a beautiful sight, indeed. The orange groves and sailboats and fields of red, ripe tomatoes filled him with awe. He gripped the railing, took a deep breath, and sang an arpeggio that rang and rang. His singing echoed out across the rooftops, over trickling streams and through the sandy dunes, only stopping when it reached the horizon.
Later, when his mother found out Aaron had done such a dangerous thing as climb the water tower, she did not sing. She cried.
When Aaron grew tall, tall, tall, he saw a crowd of boys in the hall at school. They were
surrounding Peony Hirschberg, the new girl, who had braids the color of butternut squash.
“I can run faster than any boy at school,” Kevin said.
“You should see me lift weights,” said Justin.
“Don’t bother with them,” said Matt. “I’m class valedictorian.”
Aaron stood outside of the crowd and began to sing his favorite Italian aria, Una Furtiva Lagrima. Each note sounded as if it had been crafted from a lifetime of love and longing. When he finished the final embellishment, the crowd parted, and there stood Peony, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue.
“Excuse me,” she said, taking Aaron’s hand. “Would you sit by me at lunch today?”
When Aaron finally quit growing, except for the peach fuzz on his face, he and his friends walked across their college campus, debating and discussing the great questions of life.
Aaron walked away, down the path, far from the others. What do I have to offer, he thought. Which way shall I turn? Can I make the world a better place?
Aaron’s wanderings took him into a large brick building with many rooms. His ears
immediately began to tingle. From somewhere, a tuba blatted low, squatty tones.
A piano pounded a chromatic cacophony.
The thunder of a kettledrum echoed Aaron’s footsteps.
At the end of the hall, Aaron opened a door, and the sound of a magnificent choir surged and swirled, rippled and rose, lifting him where he stood. He had never seen such a choir, heard such harmonies.
The conductor tapped his baton, and the choir stopped singing. The room was silent. The choir stared at Aaron. Aaron stared back.
“May I help you?” the conductor asked. His voice was a lightning bolt.
Aaron smiled. “I’m Aaron,” he said. “I sing.”
“Oh?” asked the conductor. His eyebrows rose. He waited.
Aaron put his hands in his pockets and closed his eyes. He licked his lips and cleared his throat. Swaying slightly, he sang the beginning lines of Langston Hughes’s “Lonely House,” and it’s haunting heartache resounded throughout the room.
When Aaron finished, silence rang. There was a clap, then another. Then ten, then a thousand, then a zillion.The clapping went on and on and on and on and ON.
The conductor tapped his baton for quiet. Again, his eyebrows rose. He looked at Aaron. “Yes,”
the conductor said. “You sing. Welcome.”
Aaron took his place in the tender nucleus of the tenors. He felt the humble embrace of the altos and the hovering superiority of the sopranos. The basses loomed like gods.
The conductor raised his baton. The choir breathed as one. The baton came down. And then…
Music swirled and swelled, lifted and lulled, throbbed and trembled. It rose to the rafters and
sailed free through the open windows. Music roosted in treetops and soaked into the grass like rain.
It tucked itself into the wings of birds and rippled the hair of small children.
And Aaron knew the world would be a better place.