Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thankful for Everything?

Under most circumstances, the room would have been filled with a suffocating hopelessness and despair. Yet there was a serenity that I felt as I stood in the quiet ground-floor condominium suite with the father, his daughter, and his son-in-law, who was holding a young baby. Everyone was quiet except for my friend, Bob Dobson. He was praying. "Lord, although I do not understand it, and my pain and sense of loss is overwhelming, I know that I need to thank you for what has occurred. Help to assure me in the days ahead as we discover why it is we can be thankful."

It was at 5:30 PM on June 12, 2006 that a Ford Explorer driven by a seminary student was heading north along the Oregon Coast Highway #101 as the Dobson van was headed south. Bob noticed the Explorer drift onto the shoulder, suddenly overcorrect, veering into the van's path, striking head on at essentially full speed. There had been no time for Bob Dobson to react or even brake. The van was immediately set ablaze with its four generations of occupants desperately scrambled to undo seat belts and pull themselves, or be pulled, from the burning wreckage. In a fiery instant Pastor Bob Dobson's life changed forever and in every conceivable way. He lost his wife, his mother, his health, and almost his daughter, son-in-law and grandson. So how is it that a man who has lost so much could pray as he did?

How can you be thankful when life seems to turn on you? Loved ones are lost, cruelly torn from a family's future, others have relationships end leaving splintered hearts, a child is drawn into a life that destroys body and mind and leaves helpless parents weeping, or normal aging robs some of the best of their dignity and sanity. Some have heard a well-meaning neurologist pronounce a few syllables that shatter dreams that were almost within reach and bring recurring and ever-amplified nightmares in their stead.

This is where an "attitude of gratitude" runs headlong into crushing reality, leaving either a discarded platitude or refined fortitude. Life has a way of testing glib sayings as it chisels away at the foundations of what we say we believe.

For some, the diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease slowly seeps into the resistant psyche, as if uncertain as to whether its subject can bear the impact of its meaning. For others those words have an immediate and devastating sense of despair. For me the verdict delivered on January 19, 2006 continues to ripple through my life in ever widening circles, like a stone dropped in the middle of quiet lake.

Perhaps it is enough for some to learn how to accept the adversity and disability represented by PD. But for me, that feels too much like gritting my teeth and trying to smile. As difficult as it is sometimes, I have come to the conclusion that I must see this as more than just another challenge. Perhaps this disease is an opportunity for which I need to be thankful. This past Canadian Thanksgiving weekend it was a question I felt compelled to consider.

Certainly that is the message of Michael J. Fox in his book "Always Looking Up". Although I am left pondering the title and the source of his faith (looking up to what?), I do embrace his view that there is purpose in living with this disease. We can choose to see it all as having meaning, rather than assume it is just the cruel hand of fate.

If there is purpose in having PD then we can take a page (literally) from the faith of my friend, Bob Dobson. He would quote the Bible, 1 Thessalonians 4:7,"... give thanks in all circumstances...".

1 comment:

  1. As I was reading this, my husband came in with a wet newspaper and started telling me how a lady turned right in front of him and how he had to jerk to the left to avoid hitting her. I read him your post, as he had just said, "God was really looking out for me, because I was just thinking out sleepy I was and should stop for caffeine. That incident sure woke me up." No accident that I was reading about the Dobson accident at that moment and your comment "give thanks in all circumstances," because he had just done that, and your friend's story was right spot on.