Saturday, March 13, 2010

Brick Walls

The young man limped ahead of me as he made his way to the kinesis room at the gym. He was dragging his left foot.  His left arm was crooked and did not swing naturally.  He looked far too young to have suffered a stroke but his left hand was stiff and curled inwards at the wrist. I wondered what cataclysmic event had intersected this young man's life. Ultimately curiosity overcame my fear of impropriety, and through halting breaths while doing crunches on the exercise mat near him, I asked what happened.

With slow, soft and slurred speech, Brad introduced himself and told me about how he had run a red light while text messaging on his phone. He was "T-boned" by an 18 wheeler, and did not wake up from the resulting coma for over two months. And when he did, on Christmas Eve, 2005, he was told brain damage would prevent him from walking or talking again. Yet here he was, outpacing me in his exercise regime. With a justified pride, he told me that he now lives independently, drives a car again and works out everyday. Going to the gym, feeling the miracle of his recovery, incomplete though it may be so far, is his primary source of encouragement. Brad had hit a brick wall in life at a very young age. Somehow, he crawled through it.

Ever run into a brick wall? For me, there have been a few brick walls in life, or so I thought.  In retrospect they were little more than stubby, temporary roadblocks. While these were somewhat preparatory, Parkinson's disease is my first real brick wall. It seems inevitable that most of us will run into a brick wall now and then. Ignoring that potential is like driving without insurance. We need to be prepared. What will be our response? How will we deal with the consequences of hitting it?

I acknowledge that every brick wall is different, as is everyone of us who hits one. Some of these devastating events result in seemingly total destruction, while others inexplicably barely leave a dent. Some folks respond to the damage done with resignation and defeat, while others simply dig deeper and press on.

In examining my own brick wall of PD, I have discovered a few things about myself. Not all of of them are flattering, but I have realized one seeming certainty: I cling to the positive. I cannot take the credit for that, as it must have been my parents and those who influenced me in my younger years. I confess I sometimes feel like the boy who, when shown a large pile of horse manure, excitedly shouted, "Where is my pony?"

I was touched and encouraged by author Randy Pausch who, though now dead, seems to reflect the same approach to life. He says in his book, "The Last Lecture", "Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something." At first I found myself pondering what this meant to him, given that he was dying of pancreatic cancer at the time, leaving behind a wife and young family.

But inevitably I had to ask the probing and personal question, "What do I want so badly that the brick wall of Parkinson's disease cannot stop me?" This is a much tougher question than it sounds. The question is not how high, how wide or how thick is the brick wall. The real issue is what is so important in my life that the brick wall merely demonstrates the tenacity, determination, creativity and ingenuity I can employ in dealing with it. The alternatives are endless. For some, it is exploring every conceivable way around, through, over or under that brick wall. For others, it is ignoring it all together, at least as long as possible. For me, I am intrigued by the questions echoing off the brick wall. Not so much, "Why me?" Rather, I find myself constantly searching for answers to the question, "Given my brick wall, how can I best deal with it?"
Will the brick wall of Parkinson's serve as a lattice from which will hang climbing roses and clusters of grapes at the edge of a garden? Or will it stand guard over a barren prison yard of my own making?

As I left Brad, sweating and smiling among the workout gear, pushing his once immobile body through new but exciting challenges, I knew the answer. With help, my brick wall will serve as a frame around my designated patch of ground, permitting, or even promoting, all the productivity, compassion and wisdom that my garden can grow.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe a movie should be made about Brad's life story. What an inspiration and a lesson against texting while driving.