Monday, September 20, 2010

Parkinson's Disease - A Cross to Bear?

The seemingly misplaced mound of dirt stands just a mile off the A2 Highway between the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, and the seaport city, Klaipeda.  All but the most observant would speed by and miss it amid the rolling terrain. Standing no higher than a three-storey house, it covers an area the size of a football field. But despite its limited size, this knoll is a monument of sacrifice for freedom, sacred to more than just Lithuanians.  The thousands of crosses memorialize the names of  departed loved ones.  Harmless though it seems, the communists had bulldozed its collection of iconic crosses more than once.  But little is able to suppress the human spirit for long. People will die to set it free.

Today, the Hill of Crosses hung its head in the rain, its shoulders shrouded by low clouds like a prayer shawl. Beaten down by the elements, many of the countless crosses stood akimbo or were badly weathered, as if knowing that soon their time would come to fall or rot in place, only to be replaced by others crafted and carried up the hill by sombre pilgrims. Most of the crucifixes, whether wood or metal, bore a name of someone lost to the living but whose contribution in life was missed and honoured.

Like monuments of defiant freedom-seekers dotted throughout this country, this place commemorates more than a religious commitment or an ad hoc collection of Christian symbols. It endures as a testimony of people who, in circumstances too diverse and painful to detail, modeled sacrifice turned into victory.

Whether one accepts it as sacred or fairy tale, the cross is a symbol of how a painful and seemingly senseless suffering and death became a victory of inestimable significance, freedom prevailing over slavery. Ironically, this instrument of Roman torture has won the hearts and minds of million across the centuries and around the world.  Thus, the phrase, "a cross to bear", is not limited to its common colloquial meaning as a plight of pain or a heavy burden to endure.  Its symbolism speaks of the legacy that sacrifice can leave, of winning freedom by the way life is lived.
The sight of this impromtu memorial to courage and loss spoke to me of the opportunity for inspiration that we who bear the cross of PD leave to those who will follow.  We must tell them that the tyrant lies and seeks to convince us we are captives to its despotic power.  We must live as people with power who plant the cross we carry on a hill so that the world may see that victory can be torn from the grip of our enemy.  We must ensure by the way we live that our sacrifice is not in vein, that we are free and cannot be owned by any thief of our health.  We must give to those who follow us the gift of courage and hope.   Regardless of whether the long-sought cure or treatment arrives tomorrow, let those who face the PD challenges of the future say, "We can overcome because they showed us how."

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