Who is someone that inspires you?

By Larisa Hemon

Cтрийко Teodor, fourth from the left (or right), singing with his brothers and nephews

Who is someone that inspires you? — Is that not a question we have all been asked at some point in our schooling journey? Most likely you have come across this question during elementary or high school, or maybe even in university or college. Nonetheless, this question strikes us with a moment of reflection to think about the people who positively influence us in our lives. These people keep us on our feet, keep us running, they give us the extra push of encouragement to do more good in this world.

Common answers to this question tend to be: our parents, family members, friends, celebrities, or historic idols. I personally can name an individual in each of those categories, as most of you can too. However, today I would like to share with you one particular individual who I see as an inspiration – my great-uncle – стрийко Teodor.

Стрийко Teodor was a blind man with many talents. A good communicator, intellect and comedian, to name a few. It is the fact that he did not let his disabilities disable him from living his life to the fullest that inspires me. His story is a great reminder that life is full of discouraging obstacles and challenges, both physical and mental, but we must never give up. Стрийко Teodor showed that with the support of family, community, perseverance and optimism, he was able to reach accomplishments that seemed unachievable to others. 

In 1934, Teodor was born to a Ukrainian family establishing a new life in a village near Prnjavor, Bosnia. He was the fifth child born in a family of 10. It is important to note that Teodor was not born blind, nor did he have any health issues. Like his other siblings, Teodor spent his childhood playing with other kids and helping his parents keep the farm green and growing. Teodor was very youthful and loved to explore the world around him, very much like Curious George – a cartoon character from an early 2000s show. However, just like Curious George, Teodor found himself in a troubling situation one day due to his curious nature.

Near the end of WWII, when Teodor was 10 years old, he was playing ball with his siblings and neighbourhood friends. The ball happened to roll right next to a hand grenade that Teodor quickly chose to involve in his next science experiment. Being the curious child he was, he wanted to see the grenade explode in the local water well. As he threw it, the grenade blew up sooner than expected. With the explosion also went his eyesight and his right hand. From this point on, his life would never be the same again.

Fortunately, Teodor and his family were quick to accept the fact that this was only a shift in their life, and not an apocalyptic ending to it. With government funding, he learned to read braille, and continued his education with the Union of the Blind. In his 20s, he finished his studies and found himself a job as a switchboard operator. His coworkers were amazed at how fast he was able to remember the names and phone numbers of people based off their voices. Due to his brilliant mind and memory, he truly mastered the art of switchboarding, leading him to become a head coordinator at the company a few years later. 

His job brought him great happiness, and it continued to bring him even greater happiness when he stumbled upon a caller named Štefica. After a few more calls, followed by a few more dates, the two fell in love and later got married. Teodor and Štefica established a beautiful life together. They raised a son and a daughter, who both later started families of their own. Despite the turmoil that the most recent Yugoslavian war had caused to its people, стрийко Teodor and Štefica made sure to keep their family safe. Having one child in Canada and the other back in their home country, the couple would continue to visit both children to the day of their passing. Throughout his entire life, стрийко Teodor held on to his values and optimism to get through the tough times and appreciate the good ones. He proved that no matter what life has to throw at you, we must live our lives to their greatest potential and not let challenges limit us otherwise. 

Having shared with you his story, I hope now you are inspired to write your own. But before you continue on with your life, let me ask you one thing — who is someone that inspires you?