I saw him first. The lecture in Kamloops had already begun and I was disappointed not to see them there. A trip to Kamloops just means Tracy-Jo and Tony. In the middle of a story I looked up and saw Tony coming through the door, he's a big man with a big smile and he gave a little wave when our eyes met. Then, magically appearing behind him was Tracy-Jo, a little dynamo with the kind of charisma that public speakers dream of. They took a seat at a table to my right. Frankly, I wanted to stop the presentation and just say, "Hi."
Years ago, Gail Saunders the ED of the Kamloops Society for Community Living, asked me to come and work with some self advocates and talk about - oddly enough 'community living'. In meeting with the self advocates it became apparent that while many were living successful lives in the community many were meeting with less than welcome attitudes. We talked about creating a new awareness of disability and what it meant. An idea formed about working with the local cable provider to do a series of 'spots' that featured individuals with disabilities who were actively making their way in the community, actively making the community better. Both Tony and Tracy-Jo came forward wanting to participate.
In working with them and getting to know them as individuals and as a couple, I was taken with them. They seemed to be the perfect couple, yin and yang and all that stuff. So, coming to Kamloops I had hoped meant seeing Tracy-Jo and Tony. Now they were there in the workshop. At the breaks we managed to catch up. Boy have times changed. Ten years ago if you ran into someone with a disability who you hadn't seen for a few years, they really had nothing much new to say. Their lives never changed and one day was pretty much the same as the next.
You know when you get a Christmas letter from someone who's life seems so much richer, so much fuller, so much 'funner' than yours. I kind of felt like that when talking to these guys. What had Tony been up too? "Not much, oh did I tell you that I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro this year?" What had Tracy-Jo been up to? "You know same old same old, oh and did I mention that I won a huge National Community Hero award from Safeway, where I work?" Not to say that either Tony or Tracy-Jo were bragging, they were just talking, sharing their lives.
When we left they gave us a little gift to take with us. It was a sealed envelope that was clearly packed full of 'stuff'. On the top of the envelope was a brief message written in black marker. I put the envelope carefully away and then Joe and I made our way to Salmon Arm. The trip took forever. The weather had gone bad and a huge accident blocked the highway. We sat for hours. Finally making it to the hotel and ordering in dinner, I remembered the envelope and pulled it out to open.
Out fell newspaper clippings that documented little bits of Tracy-Jo's and Tony's life. They live a public life, knowing that they have to demonstrate - constantly - that disability does not mean inadequacy. One of the pictures captured me for the longest time. It was a picture of Tony and Tracy-Jo embracing. Holding on to each other.
Freedom was a long time coming for people with disabilities. But when it came, it came big. Tony and Tracy-Jo live life big and small.
Gosh it was good to see them.