Have you ever noticed that telephone keypads have a raised dot on the number five? Gene McKenzie had never noticed either, until he learned it’s there to help the visually impaired dial a number accurately.
Gene has had to learn many things since losing his sight to Macular Degeneration. His wife Alice told me about a helpful CNIB club that used to operate in Portage. “They’d talk about how they managed in their kitchen, for example. About ten of us got together for friendship and encouragement, but the club has dissolved. We wish someone younger than us would pick up the leadership and get that going again.”
Experiencing life through someone else’s eyes, as Gene sometimes does through Alice’s, gives one new perspective. “We tend to only notice the things we naturally notice,” Gene says. “But get ten different people to study the same picture and they’ll describe it ten different ways.”
Three of Gene’s six siblings in the U.S. also have Macular Degeneration, and the McKenzies feel grateful for our medical system and for the CNIB, which is supported by the United Way.
“Our kids have been tremendously supportive as well,” Alice says.
|Gene & Alice with granddaughter Heidi|
I can vouch for this. Their granddaughter Heidi happily sent me more photos than I could use for this series. In a message I received from their daughter Val, she said, “Dad has risen to the challenge and faced it with grace, courage and humor.”
With a chuckle, Gene tells me why he has stopped going shopping with Alice. “It’s too easy to lose her at the end of an aisle if I don’t know which way she turned!”
When asked whether he ever feels unsafe, Alice tells me a story about when they needed to take a cab to a different gate at the Vancouver airport. With no time to explain, Alice left Gene’s side to run and catch a cab. When she looked back, she saw terror on Gene’s face.
Gene feels encouraged when friends call to invite him for lunch or coffee. When they offer a ride to an event without his having to ask, he loves it. “It’s hard to ask,” he says. “One of the great lessons of this has been that in time of need, don’t push your friends away. Draw them to you. Often when a person goes through a hard time, they draw away from friends. That would be the wrong thing to do.”
So, what did I learn from my conversation with the McKenzies? The biggest is that attitude is everything. Gene may not realize it, but one of the reasons his friends stick around is because he remains his cheerful self and continues to take interest in their lives. While he’s happy to talk about his situation when asked, he doesn’t dwell on his loss or seek pity. He keeps learning and growing rather than allowing his world to close in and insisting others live there with him.
We can all learn much from Gene. Losses in this life are inevitable and usually unavoidable. Self-pity is always optional. Faith is optional, too, but Gene’s remains intact. He is fully confident that when his days on this earth are completed, his sight and so much more will be restored.
I asked him what he most looks forward to seeing when that day comes. Without hesitation, his heartfelt answer was exactly what I expected: “I want to gaze into the face of Jesus.”
I’m pretty sure Jesus will be happy to see your face too, Gene.
In the words of John Eldredge, “The beauty of the lives of God’s true friends is the sweetest and most winsome argument for Jesus there could ever be.”