Saturday, November 14, 2009

Winston, War and Parkinson's

Exhausted from too many late nights at work, and having grabbed an insufficient four hours sleep before we dashed off to make the early morning flight from Vancouver to Miami, I slumped into window seat 13F, expecting to be asleep before we left the ground.  We had snagged the emergency exit aisle with the extra legroom and "reclining" seats, ensuring some ability to snooze.  As we were settling in I noticed that the movie to be played was "Into the Storm".  I had never heard of the 2009 Emmy-winning TV miniseries.  But something held my sagging eyelids open as I saw the rotund, cigar-chomping images of Winston Churchill.  I became totally engrossed as soon as I had my headphones plugged in and began hearing the fighting words of that savior of England. Those words inspired me as I began to see the analogy of Parkinson's as a war to be waged against an ever-fiercer force.

Churchill was a grand, if somewhat pompous, figure who strode confidently into the right place at the right time.  But at the time, few who knew the man considered him much more than a populist orator, an opportunist from a privileged background who succeeded to the office of British Prime Minister in the wake of Neville Chamberlain's retreat. Yet, despite his significant human failings (he smoked, drank and ate too much), he evidenced such courage, or brash arrogance, that he convinced or cajoled his nation and its leaders to not surrender to Hitler's Nazi bullies, but fight on despite formidable, even insurmountable, odds.  His determination and single-mindedness were legendary and critical to ultimate victory.  But, curiously, he was not a man for easy times, as his 1945 electoral defeat, after winning the war, convincingly evidenced.  He was born to fight.  The war made Churchill, as much as he made war.  It called out his greatness, his best.

I am inspired by Churchill's commitment to fight the enemy, regardless of his self-doubt and how futile war must have seemed.  I concluded at the end of that movie that he would be an inner voice for me, barking out encouragement or demanding improvement in the battle against PD.  Consider what he said and apply these statements to your enemy:

"Never give in - never, never, never, never...never give in... Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

"Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others."

"Sure I am of this, that you have only to endure to conquer."

"It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time."

"We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival."

Now ours is not a 5-year war with Parkinson's disease. Nor do we live in an age when fighting is portrayed positively.  We, of our generation, have grown up believing that all problems of conflict can be solved without sacrifice or saviors, hurt or harm. Such thinking in 1940 almost snuffed out the candle of democracy. But whatever our political persuasions, when it comes to PD we cannot negotiate.  Appeasement is not a strategic option.  We must battle its ravages until it is defeated. No wonder we feel fatigued from time to time, for it is a fierce fight.
We can be inspired by others who go to war against this daunting foe.  Like Michael J. Fox, fellow Canadian and crusader for a cure and the cash to pursue it, or Muhammad Ali, who, once as dauntless and ego-expressive as Churchill, does not hide in shame, or the hundreds who seek a better world for themselves and those who wake each day to face the enemy.  But even Churchill did not stand alone.  He has his Clementine, who soldiered on with equal bravery.  So too are there those today who prop up those trembling and stiffened hands, such as Fox's Tracy Pollan, and Ali's Yolanda.  I am reminded of my own bride of 35 years and the Churchill quote that certainly resonates for me.  Winston said, "My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me."
In times of war we need heroes.  Parkinson's is no exception.  We need inspiration and encouragement.  Maybe you know such a person who will help you to never give in.  Maybe you can be a soldier rather than a caualty.  It will take relentless, steely-eyed commitment.  But as Churchill said. "In war: resolution".

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