I picked up the phone. Without so much as a hello, a voice said, "What's new? We have an eagle in the backyard."
There was a three-second brain lapse before I recognized the voice as my nephew's. He was excited.
"It has a white head about the size of a baseball and a big yellow beak. He's sitting in the top of a dead cottonwood tree at the back of our property. You know, where we used to keep the trailer."
My nephew is visually impaired as we say today.
"It has white tail feathers that must be a foot long. He's been there a long time. We're sitting out in the sunroom watching him."
The term "visually impaired" lacks the full kick in the gut. He is blind.
Retinitis pigmentosa began stealing his sight when he was 12. He's in his twenties now.
"It's a big ol' thing. Dad saw it fly in and said it must have a wingspan of six feet. We've got an eagle sitting out back. Can you believe it?"
I can believe they have the rare pleasure of spotting an eagle in the top of a cottonwood. What I can't believe is that my nephew without sight is giving the color commentary. It shouldn't be that surprising really.
His sight might be gone, but he sees plenty. From memory mostly, from conversation around him, from listening to television and radio. He has amazing recall. We took him into town with us when we were visiting once. Our GPS wouldn't work; so he gave us directions. Turn by turn, complete with landmarks, approximate distance and cautions on curves in the road. He knew exactly where we were and got us to where we wanted to go.
Second to his family, there are two things that have been pivotal in this young man's life: a guide dog and a job.
The guide dog unleashed confidence he didn't know he had.
The job, well, as his dad said, "Having a job makes him like everybody else. Now he has something to come home and gripe about at the end of the day."
I never have a conversation with my nephew without asking about his job in case he wants to gripe. If he does, I join the club and grouse a bit about my work, too.
But I know, and I know that he knows, work is a gift.
We were created to work. We were made to produce goods and services, invent, engineer and solve problems. Work, including the nonpaying work of mothers and caregivers, is what drags us out of bed in the morning.
Work gives us something to do and somewhere to go. If that doesn't sound like a big deal, talk to someone unemployed. You might even help them paint over the claw marks running down their walls.
Work is how you prove that you have what it takes, to the world, and more importantly, to yourself. It is working hard that enhances the time that you don't work, from kicking back and reading a book to watching an eagle.
(Lori Borgman is the author of "The Death of Common Sense and Profiles of Those Who Knew Him." Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column is distributed by MCT Information Services.)