Jason Wright: Quite a lesson and legacy to leave behind

During his stays in the hospital, Torry Cline was known for his pranks. Photo courtesy of Derhonda Cline



Torry Cline was born in Front Royal on Aug. 15, 1980. Two months later, Robert and Derhonda Cline, owners of Larkins Grocery in Edinburg and a couple told they would never have biological children of their own, adopted the baby boy and prepared to share everything they knew about life, love and faith. They had no idea how quickly he’d become the real teacher.

Even before they were experts in diapers and pacifiers, they recognized Torry was different. He struggled with delayed speech and cried almost constantly. Finally, about age 4, Torry began to talk. And whenever he talked, he taught.

As Torry worked hard to catch up with other children his age, his parents were blessed — and surprised — with a biological baby. After being assured it wasn’t possible, Torry’s mother gave birth to a boy they named Heath. He also became a student to Torry the teacher.

As the family looked on, Torry navigated his learning disabilities by clinging to the scriptures, often copying his favorite verses by hand. Picking a favorite would be tough for the young scriptorian, but if he had to, he might go with Romans 8:18. “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

Not long after Torry’s 11th birthday, he noticed a knot on his knee. An avid skier, he’d taken plenty of spills on the slopes and neither he nor his parents were particularly concerned. In December, however, the pain became severe enough that they could no longer attribute the discomfort to clumsiness or growing pains.

His mother took him to the doctor and, after a quick X-ray, he said simply, “What do you know about taking care of handicapped kids? Because he’s going to lose his leg, and, maybe, his arm.”

Yes, the bedside manner was terrible, but the diagnosis was even worse — Torry had bone cancer. As it often does in children, the disease started in the growth plates and moved at will.

Just 24 hours later, the Clines walked into Children’s National Medical Center in downtown Washington, D.C. Over the next 27 months, Torry would endure 13 major surgeries, including a tibia transplant that left one leg shorter than the other. Though the cancer outran the scalpels, it never returned to the leg.

As cancer ravaged his physical body, his spirit and sense of humor only strengthened. Once, before going under anesthesia for complicated lung surgery, Torry wrote a note to doctors on his chest. “Please take the staples out of my leg.”

He was known to scare nurses by replacing urine with apple juice or pretending to be a ghost by covering himself in a white sheet. When they sprayed air freshener in his room, he often exclaimed, “Hey! Are you trying to kill me?”

When he wasn’t pulling pranks, he was writing rules. He wrote rules for the Sabbath, rules for sitting at the table and rules for his younger brother.

In August of 1992, Torry was ordained a deacon in the local congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the time, and during most of his illness, he lived at the hospital in Washington, D.C., and was not always able to travel to his home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. When he did, it was only on weekends and only after bargaining and clearing many hurdles.

In December of that same year, Torry unknowingly taught one of his most meaningful lessons. Years later, it’s an experience his parents share often with friends, family and, especially, young priesthood holders.

Torry was thrilled to be home for the weekend, just two days after brain surgery. His father woke on a Sunday morning hearing noises near Torry’s room in the basement. When he investigated, he found his son dragging himself to the bathtub.

“What are you doing?”

“I get to pass the sacrament (bread and water) today,” Torry said. “I want to be clean.”

In tremendous pain and knowing no one would have said a word otherwise, the young deacon insisted he have clean hands to match his pure heart.

Four months later, on a Thursday, Torry looked at his father outside a hospital elevator on their way for yet another round of blood tests. “Take me home dad,” he said. “We’re wasting our time.”

The next day, feeling his strides shorten between this life and the next, he told his family plainly, “I’m going to die tonight.”

He did, but not before reminding them, “I haven’t suffered nearly as much as Jesus did.”

During a recent meeting with the Clines, I asked what they learned from their oldest son. They spoke of his “old soul,” his sense of humor, perseverance and his positive attitude in the face of excruciating pain. But among the many lessons, none is more important than their deep appreciation for the sacrament.

Even that very morning of our discussion, more than two decades after the Sabbath experience, the memory still returns like a good friend. As deacons pass the sacrament, the Clines picture a young boy dragging himself to the tub.

As the bread and water trays approach, they remember a perfect elder brother who gave his all for them. And they remember a son who gave a lot, too.

Because of one, they’ll see the other again. And because of the sacrament, they will see them both. It’s quite a lesson and a legacy to leave behind. But it’s not surprising.

Because like the savior, that’s what good teachers do.

Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including “Christmas Jars,” “The Wednesday Letters” and “The 13th Day of Christmas.” He can be reached at feedback@jasonfwright.com or http://www.jasonfwright.com