Monday, October 10, 2011

The Un-Thanksgiving

Canadian Thanksgiving and I feel guilty. In fact, it seems like an Un-Thanksgiving.  Far from grateful, my thoughts are caught up in a whirlpool of discouragement and discontent. Life is not turning out as I had envisioned. I was going to grow older but remain healthy and fit. I was going to have energy in abundance and a readiness to take on ever more worthwhile challenges. I would stay strong and independent, caring for others, not others caring for me.
Instead, I have Parkinson's disease, and the "easy part", the first 5-year "honeymoon" phase, is in the past. Between fatigue and trying to keep up with a fast-paced schedule, physical fitness is limited to the occasional breathless walk up the 3 flights of stairs to my office.  An intricate medley of medication has sapped most of what used to be the boundless energy that fueled many fruitful hours of concentration. Instead of striding into an expanding horizon of opportunity, I need to take care to lower my sights to the step immediately in front of me. My 0wn needs, one day, may well outstrip my ability to care for others.
For instance, I used to love long trips by car, driving many hours without feeling any need to stop. Now, even a 10 minute drive has my leg muscles cramping painfully in a fruitless attempt to stop my foot from pulsing the accelerator like a drummer bouncing on the bass drum pedal.  I now prefer others to drive.

And my tremour, ever the insurgent, continuously invades my physical strongholds. My steadiness and dexterity retreat with resentment, having little means to retaliate.

My present circumstances find no metaphor in the sunny Sunday afternoon we had today. And the future seems threatened by lead-belly cloouds looming, ready to make life even more miserable.
But (there always seems to be a "but" doesn't there), just when my recitation of "things gone wrong" had almost eradicated the supposed benefits of a long weekend, I heard two simple words: "Hi, Grandpa". The sparkling eyes and intensely genuine smile had the same affect as a size 11 steel-toed boot planted firmly across the breadth of my lower backside. Perspective was instantly restored. Appreciation replenished. It was Thanksgiving again.
Eyes turned inward I had failed to recognize the beauty of the day, the multicolored leaves gathered in piles on the dew-drenched grass, the motorcyclists snatching the final days of two wheeled autonomy, and young men tossing a football outside a church as if flaunting their freedom, jackets and ties discarded. Stuck in the quicksand of self-pity I had forgotten the history of Thanksgiving. In Canada, the first Thanksgiving was in 1578, a celebration of survival, not of plenty in the harvest. The explorer, Frobisher, had made it back to civilization alive after an unsuccessful attempt to find the Northwest Passage by sailing through ice filled Arctic waters. In America, the 1621 Plymouth feast celebrated a "good harvest", although it was not enough to feed the 102 pilgrims for the winter. Were it not for the Native American population who provided the necessary sustenance, the survival of those pitiful pioneers was in serious doubt.
I have been so accustomed to everything going so well; marriage, family, friends, career, a treasure chest of dreams come true and more. But it seems that true Thanksgiving is spawned by deprivation more than abundance, simplicity rather than success, honest dependency not prideful self-sufficiency. 
Yes, Parkinson's may rob me of my steadiness of hand, leaving instead embarrassing evidence of my impairment. Fatigue may dog my daily steps and pull against the chain of unmet expectations. But, still, what an extraordinary life it is! Where weddings capture love, once lost or left alone in sadness. Where rocking restless babies, gently coaxed to sleep, brings smiles undimmed by fears of danger yet ahead. Where faith in something/someone bigger lends to life the meaning and the courage to go on. Where friends and family give so gladly, and forgive so readily for reasons left unstated. Yes, PD is a thief of grand proportions who would steal my love of words and wisdom, or commandeer my attitude and plunge it into darkness.
But I must choose to hear those words that wakened me today. It took two words to rouse me from that sleep of desperation.  And in the process I was taught to say another two, a truthful "thank you" in my heart, and to my world and anyone who’d listen. I've learned a prayer today. So while I have strength, breath and life to live, let me often pray these two words. Simply, sincerely, "Thank You".


  1. Awesome piece again, Bob.
    My Mom has had PD for almost 20 years. As of last year she is now n a care home, but still very bright at 88. She is pressing her children and other family to send her their stories of God's healings and other miraculous interventions so she can have them collected and compiled as a legacy to leave with us.
    Hmmm...her PD must have begun at about the age I am now.

  2. If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice. ~Meister Eckhart

  3. thank you. my husband is 69 and was just diagnosed 8 days ago. not sure if this has been coming on for a year, two years, three years or more. we have seen a variety of signs/symptoms showing up. the tremors started a year ago. the difficulty in swallowing about 4 weeks ago. i pretty much hate parkinsons. BUT so thankful for this tight knit community and praying for a cure!

  4. Good Blog Bob. It is good to look around and remember what is good and what we have to be thankful for. Thank you for continuing to write and for sharing the tough feelings. It is somehow comforting to hear about your struggles with PD and the mental flip you do to keep going and making it Positively Parkinson's.