Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Persistent Professor

Even observed closely, his smile left me guessing.  Neither cruel nor kind, or perhaps both, it was like that of a monarch who could punish or bless depending on his mood.  It remained unchanging as he climbed the stairs and strode effortlessly across the dais to stand in his familiar place high above the students.  His gaze, which from his vantage point took in the whole class, became a stare.  It was as if he knew that I was unprepared for the day’s lesson.  Foolishly, I ignored his silent warning.  I thought I knew the lesson plan and could forgo troublesome preparation.  Disrespectful, even insolent, I had concluded that the professor was intent on repeating a prior day’s lecture.  As he droned on the room became warmer.  Motivated by drowsiness and boredom, I let my eyes close, believing the professor would not notice. 
I awoke from my brief nap with no sense of foreboding.  Checking my watch I concluded that I had slept some 20 minutes.  While to others it might have seemed that the teacher knew I had nodded off and was glaring at me, I barely took notice.  In my self-imposed ignorance I had slept through a pop quiz.  Satisfied that I had spent enough time in the classroom for one day, I excused myself to go searching for other distractions.  It would take several hours before I experienced the sting of professorial punishment for having slept through my lesson. 
Not me!!!
I awoke this morning after a poor night’s sleep feeling a painful prickly sensation all over my chest.  Lifting my night shirt in front of the bathroom mirror my skin shone brilliant red with sunburn, except for the white creases that emphasized the weight I had recently gained around my girth. 

The pain of sunburn seems to be an insistent teacher, despite the fact that I am a poor pupil.  Perhaps it is the result of having lived so many years under the often gray skies of the lower mainland of British Columbia where the sun’s rays are welcome, and rain is perceived as the greater peril.  But you would think that at 60 years of age the dangers of exposing pale white skin to securing sunshine would be easily recognized.  Like a slow learner I seem destined to suffer the sunburn consequence of repeated failure. 
Some things we only learned through pain.  The loss of a loved one teaches us the value of relationships.  The injury resulting from a motor vehicle accident teaches us caution.  Throbbing muscles from exercise teaches that gaining weight is a lot easier than losing it for most of us.  Tennis elbow creates a painful awareness of lack of preparedness.  Pain is a tenacious tutor.

For those of us with Parkinson’s disease, pain is a milepost of progress (if “progress” is what you can call an increase in the number and severity of symptoms).  From toes that curl and crunch into strange contortions (dystonia) to relentlessly stiff muscles and joints that cry out for relief, pain is an unpleasant partner.  Yet, it is my teacher.  It insists that I exercise, rest, stretch and take care of myself or suffer the consequences of more pain until I do.
Most of us would prefer to avoid pain at all costs.  We do so at our peril, for lessons not learned today will be repeated tomorrow one way or another.  For pain is our persistent professor.

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