The neurologist: "Even though the MRI shows no evidence of anything in your head you still have Parkinson's disease."
My heart neither rose nor fell. It was as if I was a sailing ship becalmed for lack of wind, afloat and knowing I was powerless, or I had been handed a jigsaw piece with no puzzle in which to place it. Both metaphors were and are real.
Days later, even weeks, I felt haunted by the thought of Parkinson's disease. I didn't choose my opponent and am confounded about how to engage in the encounter. How do I relate to my body? I've lived with dread fraught by an overwhelming sense of impotence and consternation. Its presence is alive and intrudes when least expected. It comes willy-nilly, floods my body and soaks my brain in profound mystification. I feel compelled to ask questions for which there are no definitive answers.
Barring any other unforeseen malady, I now know how I'll die—and that I'll die slowly. To invest in what this all means seems futile. Beating my head against the wall only hurts — and the wall remains indifferent. Parkinson's is a chronic, progressive neurodegenerative, irreversible disorder. Significantly, only the symptoms can be treated and hopefully controlled.
I know enough not to ask "Why me?" or the equally unanswerable question "So where is God?" I'm aware of my cynicism and pessimism. They are symptoms of anger that I'm quite unable to express. There is an abiding sense of loss and grief that has to be admitted honestly.
But a gift emerges amid this self-sorrow. This disease has forced me to revalue the significance of the ordinary. The most vulnerable area of my life is my lack of discipline. Discipline is the key to renewal.
A tight schedule developed. I go to bed and get up the same time every day. In the morning I swallow my dopamine pill an hour before I eat; stretch and exercise, particularly the legs; a half hour of silent meditation; write something — anything — in my journal, let it flow; quaff my regular meds; dress; a healthy breakfast; and read the paper. Then, back to the desk and computer to take care of bills, family business, correspondence, phone calls. Read, mess with the guitar—anything to keep the mind sharp and growing, an imperative from the doctor, as is exercise.
Realizing that minutes don't make round trips, excitement for life begins again. I appreciate my history, seeing long past events as blessings. Our widowed mother kept the family together, worked in a laundry, and sent me to college, to graduate school, to seminary and to graduate school again. A loving bride and four lovely people who call me dad. I am in awe and overwhelmed.
I had a friend, Bill, who lived 42 months beyond the six months the doctor gave him. He failed quickly toward the end. He hid nothing from himself. His life had deepened. Bill had been to the depths and the heights. Examining and re-examining his faith, he became profoundly more spiritual. He died peacefully precisely because he had lived wisely "into the truth"—no denial, no avoidance, no minimizing—even as natural and expected as they may be. I shall never forget "living into the truth."
Then an answer: "I came that [you] may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers