Sunday, July 10, 2016

When I’m 64!

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”

Anyone under the age of 50 probably won’t recognize the title of this blog. The Beatles (who most people have at least heard of) recorded the hit, “When I’m 64”, at the end of 1966, 50 years ago. It became one of the lead songs on the four time Grammy award-winning album, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. 32,000,000 copies were sold, more than any other Beatles record.
As of today, July 10, 2016, I can no longer sing this song in anticipation. I remember first hearing it when I was 14 years old, a mid-teen country boy consumed with dreams about the adventures and exciting opportunities that would fill my next 50 years. The age of 64 seemed like an eternity away. But here it is, my 64th birthday has arrived much faster than I thought it would.

The lyrics of the song are somewhat of an enigma, especially when you discover that Paul McCartney had written the lyrics at the ripe old age of 16. Sung from the perspective of a teenager wondering what it would be like at the age of 64, the song is a series of questions posed to his prospective lifelong partner. See the lyrics below. The song expresses personal insecurities and asks questions that remain relevant even after 50 years. Will we still celebrate life when it’s not quite as romantic as it once was? Will we consider the needs of each other? How will we spend our time together? Will we continue to live meaningful lives? Will we have enough money? Will we have family to enjoy? Will we be secure in the commitment we have made to each other?

When I get older
Losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a Valentine?
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?

If I'd been out
Till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me
Will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four?

I could be handy
Mending a fuse
When your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride
Doing the garden
Digging the weeds
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me
Will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four?

Every summer we can rent a cottage
In the Isle of Wight if it's not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck, and Dave

Give me your answer
Fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me
Will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four?

For my part, it has been an extraordinary 64 years. Far from shallow, boring or tedious. Renae and I, both 64, have had, and continue to have, phenomenal adventures and meaningful opportunities far beyond our teenage dreams. But alongside the fullness and blessings of the past 64 years there have also been times of great pain, loss and struggle. I’m sure that when the Beatles first performed this song they did not anticipate that two out of the four (John Lennon and George Harrison) would not make it to the age of 64. Paul McCartney would not have likely guessed that he would be married three times.

The final three lines of the song’s chorus continue to strike a chord of insecurity. Even at the age of 64, and perhaps even more so, I sometimes wonder whether I am needed. Given the reality of Parkinson’s, a degenerative, currently incurable, and quite likely debilitating disease, I may well need to rely on others to feed me. Yet, despite any insecurities, there is a great deal of living to do at the age of 64. Aging presents us with a remarkable opportunity. It gives us a chance to be thankful for so much, which attitude in turn helps us to be positive, from which follows a willingness and desire to care for others. At 64 we have some questions to answer. But they need not be the ones asked in this song. Rather, we can ask ourselves; how can we help others? How can we encourage and value members of our family, our friends, or simply those we encounter from day-to-day? And for those of you who can still sing the song with anticipation, you don’t need to wait until you are 64 to ask yourself these questions?

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Battle of the Button

Standing and staring into the bathroom mirror in the early morning does not count as one of my favorite moments in the day.  First, even without my glasses, I am instantly aware again that the unshaven person with tousled gray hair that I see reflected has aged considerably since he was 18 (the age that I feel on the inside!).  Second, since I haven’t taken any of my pills the stiff movements and uncontrolled shaking remind me of the Parkinson’s disease prison that I occupy.  But thirdly, I quickly start thinking about the battles I will face in the day ahead.  Fighting bone-deep fatigue, trying to ignore the aching pain that develops in my shoulders and arms, and managing to eat with a fork despite its tendency to catapult its contents onto the table, floor and the person seated next to me; they are all challenges I will have to deal with because of PD.

But some days are worse than others.  Now that I am the president of a small university (Trinity Western University), I am often required to wear a suit and tie in order to appropriately play host to special guests of various cultures.  Of course, this necessitates that I wear a dress shirt, and my favorite dress shirts that I wear are the Nordstrom’s “boat” shirts.  Comfortable, crisp and durable, there’s just one problem, THE BUTTON.  Actually, there are five buttons with which I wrestle each time I put on a dress shirt.  There are the cuff and sleeve buttons, four in total.  However, usually after 6 to 8 attempts, I can squeeze the little plastic spheres into their too small stiff-cotton slots where they will stay until the shirt is laundered and returned to my closet to wait its turn to be worn. 

However, one button, strongly stitched on the edge of my collar next to my throat just under my beard-hidden double chin, remains to be conquered.  I pinch one half of the button with my right forefinger and thumb as if to squeeze it flatter.  At the same time, while trying to bridge the chasm that separates my collar band, I pull with my left thumb and forefinger to "stabilize" the buttonhole that awaits insertion by the approaching button.

Now all this sounds quite typical and easily accomplished, but not so with Parkinson’s.  For someone with PD, attempting to place the mini discs through the appropriate reinforced slits can be like trying to thread a needle while standing up in a storm-tossed dinghy.  Each desperate try results in deeper frustration, and increased shaking, often ending in exhaustion even before the day has started.

There is some things about the way I fight that battle with the button that are important.  For starters, the time-consuming process teaches me patience, demanding that I go slower than I would like.  Attempting to rush the task is certain to lead to failure.  Further, the simple war I wage with the button any given morning trains my spirit to be determined, refusing to give up too easily when it seems hopeless.  It may seem to the outsider that this is just being stubborn.  Be that as it may, I believe we need to be stubborn in our fight against PD.  But there is one more lesson I have learned from the button: the humility to know when I need help.  It is a balancing act: asking for assistance too readily on one side and exercising prideful insistence on the other.  It takes wisdom to know when to enlist your ally to win the battle of the button.

I have the battle of the button.  What is your battle?