Johnny Whitfield 2017-04-13 04:47:10
Life Lessons Come Full Circle I remember, in about the fourth or fifth grade, traveling with my classmates to a movie theater in Raleigh to see the 1962 movie “The Miracle Worker” starring Anne Bancroft and a young Patty Duke. The real-life Helen Keller had the benefit of being born into a family of means. Her father was able to provide for a teacher (Sullivan) to work with his daughter one-on-one. The relationship between Sullivan and the headstrong young Helen Keller grew into a lifetime friendship, and the bonds they formed allowed Keller to accept the teaching she was receiving. Keller remains, to this day, the greatest American example of overcoming disabilities. One of my sisters has had to deal most of her life with a profound hearing loss. Like Helen Keller, I suppose, our parents were able to provide her with access to resources, and she has always worked—and continues to work—to overcome the challenges her deafness presents. She really is one of the real success stories of our family. It is striking to me that she works now as a teacher of hearing- impaired students. Those lessons from so long ago have come home to me in recent weeks as we begin to deal with my father-in-law’s worsening eyesight. On a holiday, we sat around the table at his home outside South Hill, Virginia, and, on the table, tucked between the ham, mashed potatoes and turkey, was a very bright desk lamp with the light directed over his plate. Mr. Howbert has given up driving, even in broad daylight, and my wife and her sister do their best to stay with him as much as possible. Losing his sight has robbed him of some of his great pleasures including solving crossword puzzles and watching “Andy Griffith” reruns. Thankfully, he still has some peripheral vision, and he can see enough to do a few things outside. And he can still tell people what to do to fix one of the half-dozen or so lawn mowers people bring to his house. Though he can still do some things, his increasing blindness is robbing him of his independence, something he’s enjoyed since he moved out of his parents’ home at the age of 18. Mr. Howbert is 87 now, and so it comes as surprise to no one, really, that he experiences his share of health issues. Blindness, though, isn’t one I typically associate with old age. Unlike my sister and Helen Keller, Mr. Howbert’s situation isn’t a lifelong circumstance. He won’t have a long lifetime to overcome his blindness. He’ll spend what he has left of his life accommodating this shortcoming and making do. I am impressed with the matter-of-fact way he’s approached things. He’s become more accepting of help, something he wouldn’t have been just a few years ago. He’s ceded decision-making authority to his daughters on many—though not all—fronts. And he’s just so darn graceful about it all. I’m not sure I could be that graceful. In fact, I know darn well I couldn’t. Those lessons from so long ago have come home to me in recent weeks as we begin to deal with my father-in-law’s worsening eyesight. As a young adult, I joined the Chase City Lions Club in Virginia, where I met and married Mr. Howbert’s daughter. Our club did a White Cane fundraiser. Members with buckets stood at key road intersections and other high-traffic locations for several hours at a time collecting donations from passersby. I was assigned to stand at the end of the drivethrough lane at the local bank on payday. I wore my Lions’ apron and carried my white cane and my bucket, and I hit up every bank patron who completed their transaction at the two-lane drivethrough. At the time, it seemed like little more than a really fun way to raise money. It seems like so much more than that now. Reprinted with permission of The Eastern Wake News in Zebulon, North Carolina. Whitfield, who writes for the newspaper, was a Lion in the early 1990s.
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