I believe my April 27th Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant had to be one of the most courageous 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. Then I lost track of him. I had not known that he went on to FMCC or that he eventually got a job doing maintenance at Auriesville Shrine.
Tim passed away in April of 2015 at the age of 63. His online obituary and the comments and condolences friends added to it are all I know about his personal life. The clear message was that he refused to let his appearance define him. 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, it was that space that I found myself thinking and wondering about. I had always assumed it existed because people felt uncomfortable being next to him but now 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.