Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Curious Thing About My Parkinson's Disease

We should switch New Year's Day and Labour Day.  September rivals January.  So many things start this month.  There is a definite jump-shift from summer sun and vacation mode to autumn showers and a return to diligence.   Above all, no matter our age, September spells a return to school, or at least a memory of that dreaded day.  We learned lessons we did not think we needed.  We reacted to teachers as if they were masochists engaged in cooking up conspiratorial mind-numbing experiments.  What else would they be doing in those staff rooms where they retreated with glee every chance they got.   The education system we were subjected to took 12 years, or in some cases more, to douse the primordial spark that fuels all real learning: curiosity.

What are you curious about?  Do you find yourself wondering what words like "primordial" mean, or where terms like "jump-shift" came from?   How often do you use a dictionary, inquire about your ancestry, find out where Uzbekistan really is, or how many people have actually been to the moon?  Do you care that it is improper to answer, "Good!" when asked "How are you?" in the morning?  Why not?

Schooling was not in my years,  nor is it today, portrayed as the exploration of the unknown, an adventure without borders.  It was, like Parkinson's disease, systemic evolutionary rigor mortis.  It was focused on building barriers to keep us from coloring outside the lines, promoted as a place where instructors were paid to follow curriculum.  We learned early that daring to ask the rare question was to invoke the sneering stares and shunning of classmates.  The kid with his or her hand up did not risk unpopularity, he/she guaranteed it.  Maybe that is what Albert Einstein meant when he said, "It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”

Today, the inquisitive mind is equated with the quaint, the cute and the queer (in the original use of that term).  "Trivial Pursuit" is, after all, "trivial".  Why learn something that does not serve a practical purpose?  We are all about immediate gratification and relevance; relevance to me.

Parkinson's disease changed all that for me.  Or maybe it just made something that was unimportant relevant.  Suddenly, at least after I emerged from the dazed detachment of denial, I wanted to know about this "old person's disease" that caused them to tremble and shuffle and stare expressionless into nowhere.  But I also became more aware of other things I knew nothing about.  The mind that produced an insufficient supply of dopamine manufactured an abundance of  new questions; ones I had never asked.  What are MS, ALS, and muscular dystrophy?  How do people cope with loss of function?  How does one age gracefully when it hurts?  What is important to me in the end?  I have regained a perspective found more commonly in naive children who cannot accept a glib "Because!" in answer to their "Why?"

I have a lot of unanswered questions as a result of my PD.  What? How? When? Where? Why?  Are you curious?

Judge a person by their questions, rather than their answers.”


  1. Very curious actually. At 40 PD became my co-tenant, and at that time many people claimed a cure was just around the corner - citing 5 years as the time frame. I turn 44 this month; four years down, one to go. After attending the MJFF research round table in Beverly Hills a few months back, I've come to realize that it will take a miracle to meet the rapidly approaching deadline.

    Life is still wonderful, though. PD does not take away our ability to live happy, meaningful lives, and for that I am thankful.

  2. KJ;

    Great to hear from you. We can choose how we play the PD cards and I am with you on your attitude. I am following your blog too.