The Metal Pole

Homer Page is a leader in the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. When he was six years old he learned a lesson from a metal pole, and he remembers it well to this day. Here is how he tells it: I was born seven weeks before Pearl Harbor. As were so many young men of his generation my father was soon caught up in the war. For a number of years during my early life he was away from home in the army.

My younger brother and I lived with our mother and grandmother on our family farm. My mother and grandmother were blind, as was I. They ran the farm, while we waited and prayed for my father to come home. In time, he did return safely. But during this time we were rather isolated.

During these years I really didn't understand that I was blind. I enjoyed enormously running in the open fields that made up our farm. I fell off a table and broke my arm, and then another time I slipped in the water on the back porch, where my mother was washing clothes. I fell out the back door and broke my arm again. In each instance I hardly slowed down while I wore a cast. Later, when I was nine, I broke my collarbone playing tackle football at school, and still later, when I was 15, I broke my arm again in a bicycle accident. Sometimes my cousin, who was a few years older would come to visit. He would tell me about going to school. It sounded exciting. I could hardly wait until I would be old enough to catch the school bus and go to school. I spent many of my days playing school and dreaming of reading books. Finally the day came when I could start school. My father was home by then. He and my mother took me to school. No one mentioned that I was blind. When it was time to play that first day, I joined the other children and went outside. Children who are six years old run. They run without purpose. They run in packs for the simple joy of running. The children began to run. I joined them, and I too began to run.

My next memory from this day long ago is still vivid. I ran into the metal pole that braced the playground slide. In a split second I was flat on my back. My nose had squarely struck the pole. I was in a great deal of pain, and the other children were going on without me. In that moment I realized that I was blind.

I knew that if I lay there, or if I cried, I could not play with the other children. I got up to join my new friends. They never commented nor did I. I spent my childhood and adolescence with many of those children. We seldom talked about blindness. I just took part in whatever activity presented itself.

There was no pity or sentimentality shown to me. When teams were chosen to play softball, I was chosen last. But when teams were chosen for math or social studies competitions, I was chosen first. Those selections were fair and neither I nor anyone else questioned them. It meant nothing to me to be selected last. What was important was that I played, that I played hard, and that I looked for ways to make a positive contribution to my team. In my decades since my encounter with the metal pole, I have more than once found myself figuratively lying on the ground. What I learned at six years of age, and have relearned several times since, is that getting up is the best option. The other option is to play it safe and not really play. In 1981 I was elected to the Boulder, Colorado, City Council. In 1986 I was chosen to be Deputy Mayor of the city. In 1988 I was elected to the Boulder County Board of Commissioners. During all but one of my years as a county commissioner I was either Chairman or Vice-Chairman of the Board. However, things were not always easy. In 1980 I ran for the Colorado legislature. The race was very close. Near the end of the campaign, workers representing my opponent began going door to door in the district telling voters that since I was blind, I could not represent them, that I would only represent the interests of the blind. I lost that election by 120 votes. That metal pole had just blocked my path once again.

I got up and started to run again. I found that I had won the respect of my community. A year later, I was elected to the Boulder City Council. Four years later I ran for re-election. As top vote getter in the election, I was in line to be mayor, but once again my blindness became an issue. I was not selected to be mayor. I was, however, chosen to be deputy mayor. Once again, that metal pole had gotten in the way.

In 1988 I ran for the Board of County Commissioners. I unseated a popular incumbent. In 1991 I was unopposed. My blindness had simply ceased to be an issue that could help a political opponent.

On September 1, 1995, I assumed the responsibility of directing the National Federation of the Blind's training center in Colorado. Students at the Colorado Center for the Blind learn the alternative skills that they need to live independent and productive lives, and they learn the attitudes that they need to accept and manage their blindness. As I work with Center students there is a perspective that I hope to be able to share with them. Perhaps I can state it like this: In the lives of blind persons there are occasional metal poles. Once it was believed that those poles made life too dangerous or too difficult for us to be able really to participate with sighted persons on terms of equality, but now we know that this is simply not true. However we also know that when those poles appear in our paths and flatten us, we must get back up and continue to run without bitterness or self-pity. We must also improve our travel skills through life, so we can avoid as many of those poles as possible. We must be tough enough to play without sentimentality, and smart enough to know that in this way life will shower us with abundance.