April 27 – Happy Birthday Tim Santoro

I missed somebody’s birthday the other day. I wanted to recognize it on my blog because I believe this person had to be one of the bravest individuals in the history of this city. His name was Tim Santoro and he was born on April 27, 1952 with a facial deformity that made him look very different than everyone else. Since I grew up during the same time he did, I saw him quite a bit as a kid, mostly in church on Sundays with his Mom. I knew he attended St. Mary’s Institute and graduated from Bishop Scully. I had not known that he went on to FMCC or that he eventually got a job doing maintenance at Auriesville Shrine.

Tim died last April at the age of 63. His online obituary and the comments and condolences his friends added to it are all I know about his personal life. The clear message was that he refused to let his appearance define himself or his relationships with others. He wanted friendships, not pity.

But what I do vividly remember about Tim was that every time I saw him in church or in a group photo of his class at school there was always a larger than normal space between him and the person standing or sitting next to him. As I read his obituary a year ago, it was that space that I found myself thinking and wondering about. I’m sure it existed at first because people felt uncomfortable being next to him but I wondered if Tim, knowing that, began creating that space himself.

Fortunately, he was born into a family that loved him like crazy. But even still, for him, waking up each morning and walking out his front door to face a world filled with so many different kinds of attitudes had to have taken an enormous amount of courage on his part.

I remember when I was in grade school, a nun in our catechism class told us that when folks born with physical or behavioral disabilities enter heaven, God “cures” them. But the heaven I’m hoping to reach is a place where what we look like or what we can’t do matters not at all. In that heaven, the spaces between Tim and everyone else have finally disappeared.

2 thoughts on “April 27 – Happy Birthday Tim Santoro

  1. The first time I remember seeing Tim was when I was a paper boy. I had the Elizabeth Street route. I’m guessing it was about 1963 and I was about 12 years old. Saturday morning was collection time and paper boys all over the city were going door to door collecting 50 cents for that week’s newspapers. I knocked on one door and Tim opened the door. I hadn’t ever seen him before and I admit that I was shocked and didn’t know what to say. Afterwards, after I’d had time to think about it, I felt ashamed of my reaction and wished I could have a do over. Something inside me wanted to get to know him, But I was a shy kid and figured my paper route would provide another opportunity and I would rise to the occasion. It would not be so. Despite the fact that I had the route for another year or so, I never saw him again on my paper route. I must have seen him around town or at school over the next several years, but I don’t recall having any direct contact with him.

    I moved away from Amsterdam in 1975 and have visited sporadically since then. One time, probably in the early nineties, while visiting my old hometown, I paid a nostalgic visit to Auriesville Shrine. As I drove around the familiar grounds, reminiscing of days gone by, I saw a groundskeeper on a riding mower, completing the daunting task of keeping those sacred grounds heavenly and well-manicured. As I drove by, I did a double take, and, sure enough, it was Tim Santoro. After all these years, quite unexpectedly, my second opportunity presented itself.

    I wish I could say that I rose to the occasion and befriended him. I thought about it. I wanted to. But what would I say? Would I unintentionally offend him? Would he even welcome an approach from this stranger, his former paper boy? I took another lap in my car, hoping I would muster the courage. But I didn’t. I completed my drive and went back to Amsterdam and then back to Ohio.

    But I would think about him frequently and wonder what had become of him, was he happy, did he have a circle of friends? So I was saddened to read that he had passed away last year. I hope he had a happy life and that circle of loving friends that all of us need to get by on this world.

    Liked by 1 person

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