Sunday, October 4, 2009

Deer in the Headlights

There were fewer than 100 attendees arranged around tables in front of me as the lapel mike was clipped onto my shirt. They were mostly seniors (a rank I will soon achieve, or have entered at some restaurants), none of whom I knew. Even so, I strained to discern the emotions in the eyes staring at me. Fear was what I saw. Faced with that observation, what could I say? Of course there was fear. They had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and were attending the "New Diagnosis Seminar" sponsored by the Parkinson's Society of British Columbia. And I was there to talk about living with PD, the topic of this blog and an all-consuming focus for me.

Encouraging the small crowd was a challenge. It is difficult to convince those who's world has been rocked by news that there would be extraordinary challenges ahead. Some days might be tear-stained, painful and dark. At times a sense of hopelessness might creep into the mind and seek to blot any sunshine or smile. I knew the sense of isolation and dread that simmered just below the surface. Even those who just came with loved ones who had been diagnosed with PD were asking the question (whether aloud or in their hearts), "What do I do now?" It was the reason they had all come.

This was no time to entertain with platitudes or make shallow promises. I wanted to inspire. I was incredibly inadequate for the job, but I knew that I had to do my best. Words have great potential. They can be powerful. As Buddha apparently stated, "Words have the power to destroy or heal. When words are true and kind, they can change the world." Strangely, I had been looking forward to this moment. Perhaps it was because it required me to test the mantra of this blog: we can live positively with Parkinson's. Would that sincere suggestion, that call to arms, be enough to rally the sinking spirits of those in the audience. It is not enough to believe what I was saying; it had to be a part of me. Those listening would know if it were nothing but hypocritical hyperbole.

The strange thing about speaking engagements is that you never really know how well or poorly you did. The applause may be flat or overdone. Those who speak to you after may be falsely flattering. There is no litmus test for a well-done speaking engagement.

And if I were looking for some sudden salvation result, those I talked to afterwards still had the 'deer in the headlights' look in their eyes. But they were simply betraying a feeling I still have and try to confront from time to time. There is no easy way to replace the neurologist’s declaration that it is 'positively Parkinson's' with the determination that you can live with Parkinson's positively. The diagnosis can deafen us and often drowns out the positive. Regardless, we are left with one decision: How will we live with this?

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