Monday, November 3, 2008

Home at Tony's Place

After skedaddling down the northern Oregon coast, we looped east and landed in the inland empire of the Willamette Valley and our adoptive hometown of Eugene, OR. But we didn’t return to Eugene to go home—this trip is not yet from finished. Rather, we returned to Eugene for another reason altogether. We had returned to visit Tony.

After almost a year on the road in this great land, Diane and I have ranged far and wide. We have seen marvels of nature. We have enjoyed the vibe of America’s greatest cities. We have been grateful guests of gracious hosts. And though just the two of us ride in the bus, we’ve actually had a third traveler with us the entire way: Diane’s son, Tony.

Tony is Diane’s only child. Tony is never far from Diane’s thoughts. He is her truest love and the love of her life--they talk on the phone nearly every day. You cannot know Diane without knowing Tony; and you cannot love Diane without also loving Tony. I have known Tony since he was twelve years old, and over these many years I have had the great fortune and profound pleasure to watch and help him grow up. And as I love Diane and have grown to love her more—for love is an ever-changing experience that grows and matures—so I also love Tony.

Tony is a rare individual. He was born completely blind. Through several operations as a baby he gained some vision, though he remains legally blind. This limitation might not be obvious to you the first time you meet him. To understand how he sees, imagine seeing the world with a crinkled piece of wax paper placed over eyes. Imagine looking through this wax paper using only one eye, while looking over the bridge of your nose. Not only will you have a difficult time seeing anything, but you won’t have any depth perception. Imagine getting around your home, preparing dinner or doing laundry or mowing the lawn. Imagine trying to find your bus stop, going to church and school and work. Imagine yourself traveling the world. Finally, imagine yourself surrounded by friends and family—people who love you. Imagine these things successfully and you have a sense of what it means to walk in Tony’s shoes.

Tony currently works as a courtesy clerk for a large grocery chain. He is on his feet all day, sometimes outside for hours in the cold Oregon rain, and though he comes home tired he does not complain. He simply gets the job done, day in and day out. He is also ambitious, and he tries his best to get through night school classes and to earn promotions at work. He expects and desires more for himself than what he has today; and I admire his industry, his determination, and his uncommonly gracious personal touch.

Suffice it to say that the days we spent at Tony’s place were among the most enjoyable of this road trip. Days of work were followed with nights of family dinners, both at home and out and about at some of our favorite eating places around town. It was the sort of family homecoming that all road-weary travelers dream about.

But, like I said, this road trip is far from finished. We had a family wedding to attend in Sacramento, CA. So we loaded up and hit the road for what would be a solid 10-hour drive. We didn’t bid Tony a farewell so much as we bid him a hearty "see-you-later"—we would see him soon enough when we picked him up at the Sacramento airport the next day.

And as we drove south, with the beauty of Oregon in its fall glory all around, it occurred to me that all of us amount to more than an assemblage of our physical attributes and limitations. If a boy is a person who is motivated by self-interest who needs constant supervision, then a man is the measure of the quality of his own desires and the manner in which he makes them manifest. And over the time we’ve been gone, where we left behind a boy we returned to find a man.

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