Monday, April 22, 2013

The Truth?

“To tell you the truth…”. To be honest…. Without a word of a lie…. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…. Figures of speech, perhaps, but why do we use them? Who are we trying to convince? Why don't we just tell the truth?  What is the truth?

Situation #1: I had just escorted the new client into the boardroom. We sat across from each other exchanging pleasantries until he leaned towards me, placed his elbows on the broad oak table and clasped his hands together as he told me his story. It seemed as if he could easily slip to his knees on the floor in an attitude of prayer, as he might have knelt beside his bed when he was a child. He seemed earnest, too earnest. He was trying too hard to make me believe what he was saying. Insist that we might, he was not believable. I found myself backing away from representing him.
Situation #2: It was a typical stand-up cocktail party, the kind where you move aimlessly around the room making small talk with people you may have never met before, and may never meet again. Everyone seemed at least slightly uncomfortable, most of them thinking about something other than the superficial conversations they are apparently engaged in. But the couple I was speaking to responded with more than the easy answers to my relatively innocent inquiries. It seems as if there was a reason for them to be disclosing, to be honest, even transparent. Within minutes there were tears shed, great pain acknowledged and difficult things shared. The truth had drawn virtual strangers together, if only briefly.

Situation #3: Our paths had crossed at several junctions, yet we had never had an opportunity to exchange more than polite pleasantries. But the couple I was seated next to at the wedding reception seemed to have a story to tell, a confession to make. In short order the secret was out. Despite the pained expression on their faces, there was also relief. The truth was known, and it was freeing. Of course, the admissions of past failure were not made without risk. There is always risk in the telling of the truth or a lie. So what is the difference? There is no potential for freedom in telling a lie. There is no potential for depth in relationship when wearing a disguise. One can only be loved to the extent one is known.
And so, too, with Parkinson’s. It seems that, despite the long history of this disease, there are many who know nothing about it. Of course, we who have it are anxious to disguise its symptoms.  Self-conscious, we sit on our shaking hands or stuff them in our pockets to avoid the questioning glances. We avoid social situations that demand agility and fine motor skills to navigate crowded room with a drink in one hand and a plate of canap├ęs in the other. We hide the ever-increasing loss of control, as if admitting to our ailments were a sign of weakness, the painful recognition of our diminished value in a society that praises proficiency and power.

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, but I find myself wondering what that is supposed to mean. Sure, there are fundraising events and television campaigns. And, perhaps, the general public becomes marginally more aware of something called “Parkinson’s disease”. But in a culture where life is lived at the speed of a Google search, and retention of information is limited to the overloaded capacity of human (and digital) memory, “awareness” often becomes a vague and overstated achievement. Ask any person at the end of April how much more he or she now knows about Parkinson’s disease. Not much, I expect. Why?


I have a new idea for “Parkinson’s Awareness Month”. Let those of us who have this chronic, degenerative and incurable disease just tell the truth to a few who might be interested in listening. Certainly, there are risks, but isn’t it better that the truth be told, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? How can we advocate awareness when we are afraid to share the truth?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IH-1-00cQok

Friday, April 12, 2013

At Peace with the Unsolved Problem?


The newspaper lay open on the restaurant counter. Whoever had last been seated there had left either in a hurry or in frustration, as an incomplete crossword puzzle advertised the departed patron’s defeat.  That abandoned puzzle drew me, challenged me, taunted and tempted me. “Can you finish me off? Try it! I dare you."  My eyes darted from the tiny number in an empty square to its twin in the list clues. The instant I knew I had the answer, mentally filling in the empty spaces, I knew it had me. Like a net it engulfed me until I had solved every clue and filled in every blank, freeing myself from its grip. I closed the newspaper and ordered supper.

I enjoy solving problems, or at least trying to do so. I find myself attacking them, studying them, turning them over and over in my mind until I (hopefully) find that unexplored niche, that secret portal that lets me in. I am blessed by a calling that allows me to exercise this passion for problem-solving. I resonate with our mission statement:
“We serve as trusted problem solvers”.

But every problem is not so easily solved as a crossword or a legal dilemma. There are the big problems like terrorism and violence, oppression and ignorance, hunger and crime. There are the emotional problems like divorce and abuse, addiction and abandonment, hatred and hurt. And then there is the problem of diseases such as Parkinson’s, an unsolved mystery like a crossword puzzle the size of a city block cut into millions of pieces and thrown into a hurricane. In order to find the answer we must first find the right question, the clue.

When it comes to problem solving there seems to be 4 kinds of people. There are those who choose to ignore the problems altogether, denying their existence. “Ignorance is bliss” they say, not knowing that the 17th century poet Thomas Gray had tongue-in-cheek when he said:

"Where ignorance is bliss, 
'Tis folly to be wise."
Second, there are those who solve the easy problems but stop there in fear lest they be defeated on the more difficult ones. Like those who master, and remain satisfied with, the simple crosswords but never move on to take on the more challenging.
And third, the “A” type personalities who climb progressive steeper slopes, becoming stronger as they go; winning gold and glory for getting to the greatest heights. We honor them and give these heroes praise for their success.
But there’s an oft-forgotten few who toil away against all odds, the unadorned but unrelenting who maintain the faintest flame of faith. They are the humble few who will not bow to failure, but insist upon believing that answers can be found for the incurable. With passion-driven tenacity they battle on, refusing to make peace with the unsolved problem.

Which one are you?  Which one do you want to be?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Progeny of Pain and Parkinson's Disease

It was 15 years ago.  Good Friday.  Black Friday.  It became the epicenter of a personal earthquake the aftershocks of which I still feel today.  There was no physical pain, but a decision I made that day led to lifelong professional consequences, strained relationships, significant economic setbacks and a profound sense of loneliness.

At the time, it had no connection with Parkinson’s disease, although, in retrospect, it may have been early evidence of its onset.  Despite the lack of any association with PD then, that dark day was preparing me for another difficult one 7 years later; my diagnosis day. 
Good Friday, 1998.  As one would expect, none of the firm’s lawyers were in the office.  Except me.  I was sitting at my computer, reading and rereading the short note I had just typed.  I hesitated, staring out the window.  It was a beautiful day outside, but inside my head I saw nothing but ominous clouds, a storm I could not survive seemed to loom immediately ahead.  I felt that the only responsible step was to do something to avert its impact.  I hit “Send”.  The almost inaudible click of that key started a chain reaction I could not have anticipated, at least not in the state that I was in at the time.

There was anger and accusations of disloyalty and betrayal.  In the minds of some I had broken a trust that could not be repaired.  There was no way forward.  No explanation was satisfactory.  My words sounded hollow as they seemed to rebound off those faces that no longer smiled at me.  The harm done was irrevocable.  My partnership in the law firm ended, unhappily.

Unintentionally I had caused fear, sadness and anger, not just for myself but others I cared about.  I was guilty and the painful consequences followed.  But in the 15 years since that fateful Good Friday, I have learned something about that pain; it was necessary. 
On April 3, 2013, “Kuhn LLP – Legal Counsel” had an open house and invited its clients and others to celebrate the new facilities we had moved into.  But we were also celebrating our 15th anniversary.  As the day arrived, I began to see our new offices and the anniversary as poignant testimonials of the value, even the necessity, of pain as an instigator, a change agent.  You see, were it not for the dark days following that Good Friday of 1998 I would never have left the law firm I was with.   I would never have ventured out on my own in a humble, 150 ft.² office using borrowed furniture.  I would never have experienced the growth of that solo practice to a midsize firm of extraordinary professionals, already fully occupying more than 5000 ft.² of first-class office space.  There are a lot of people to thank, but the genesis of it all was pain.

Pain is still producing progeny in my life.  But now the source of pain is Parkinson’s disease.  Of course, PD brings with it physical pain, but like the pain of 15 years ago, it is complex.  Both involved an indescribable sense of loss, unavoidable and sweeping change, and the undeniable need to redefine myself to some degree.  However, just as I am incredibly thankful for that painful catalyst that occurred 15 years, I am finding myself increasingly aware of the growth and perspective gained from having Parkinson’s.  I may not yet be in a place to celebrate my PD diagnosis.  But then it hasn’t been 15 years since diagnosis day (January 19, 2006).  Who knows, maybe I will have a party in 2021!