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June 27, 2011

From Fly Creek: Wobbling home

— When I realized that I’d be away, right up to this week’s  deadline for a column, I cameupon a good solution. If not a brainstorm; at least it was a lucid moment. I said to myself, “Self, why not share with readers the introduction to your forthcoming book, due out in mid-August? They’re probably curious, and it would be a sly piece of marketing, too. What do you say to that, self?”

Of course I agreed at once. After all, who am I to contradict me?

Mind you, this isn’t the  novel that I’ve been tellingyou about (that’s still being polished), but a book on being at once a Quaker Christian and a Parkinsonian. As I say, “Wobbling Home” will be out in August, and available at once both in print and electronically. “Oh, Brave New World!” Here’s the Introduction: Wobbling is what I do a lot lately. Three years after a diagnosis of Parkinsonism, and despite fine medications, the symptoms persist and slowly grow. And so I wobble, stumble, reel, and sometimes make faces I can’t control. The morning mirror can startle me: right eyebrow drooping, left eye flicking like a ship’s  semaphore, mouth pulled upin a piratical sneer. Sometimes that face appears in public. I only know it by the looks on others’ faces.

And I fall down. So far it’s been more going upstairs than down, and more onto beds and chairs than floors. I fall outside, too, though so far only onto grass and baled hay.

Before breakfast, I take Blue for his walk, first down the back lawn to open up the chicken house, then around  our small west field so thathe can do what a dog must do. Simon the cat, who shares Blue’s dog bed by night, trots along behind us. (Cats all know that any parade’s place of honor is at the end.) Blue snuffles along the fence line, offering threelegged salutes to locust posts and weeds sticking through the fence wire. Sooner or later, by a standard I’ve never understood, he finds just the right spot, turns three times in a circle, and unburdens himself. “Good dog! Brave dog!” I say by way of encouragement. He appreciates this, I think; afterwards he cavorts and does a victory lap around the field.

Meanwhile, Simon has done his own morning reconnaissance, his eyes, ears, and nose attuned with an acuity I can’t imagine. He’s on the alert for any star-crossed mouse or vole that raises its head above ground at the wrong moment.

A few days ago, at the end of this ritual and when we’d formed up for the march back to breakfast, I fell. Don’t know how or why. One moment I was walking fairly well, Blue heeling beside me, Simon parading behind. Suddenly, thud! I was down, first onto knees, then face, then onto one side. I lay a moment, taking inventory, and found that everything still worked.

By then, Blue’s professionalism had kicked in. (A registered therapy dog, he brings much joy to patients at the local hospital.) Blue rushed up and began applying what first aid he could, shoving his cold nose into my ear and lavishly washing my face.

When I got on my feet, he led me by the leash back to the house. I’d taken a jolt, muddied my pants and face, but was otherwise all right. (The sheep were in other fields, and so I hadn’t dived into any left-behinds.) What to say? Falling happens.

When friends ask how I am these days, I draw on a nautical metaphor. “I’m shipping water below decks, but I’m  still under sail--and pumping,pumping.”

And indeed, I am still under sail, and still on course. And I hope that the second word of my title suggests how that course is charted. I’m on my trip’s inbound haul. I’m steering for home.

As a Christian, I see my life itself as God’s gift, and in it, everything that has occurred in its seventy-plus years. That includes Parkinson’s. It’s certainly nothing I’d have chosen on my own, but I know that it  comes from the same lovingSource as my life, and it is meant to shape the rest of it. Still, it’s not exactly the hike toward home that I’d foreseen.

Parkinson’s is a clumsy traveling companion. With it holding onto me, I stutter, become confused, even get stuck in place. But never mind. On my other side I have help, strong and abiding. I’m leaning on the Everlasting Arm.

Most of this book’s contents come from weekly columns that I’ve written since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2007. They’ve largely been published in the Cooperstown Crier, a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, New York.

To give you a sense of how I’ve shared Parkinson’s with my newspaper readers, I’ve kept the columns largely as they were published, addressed to a readership that had been following me for a dozen years and more. That makes for some repetition as, writing across the weeks, I reminded readers of facts already stated; but I don’t think that will distract you.

And, hoping to give you a fuller sense of me, I’ve mixed the Parkinsonism columns among others that reflect my life and values. Some were written pre-parkinsonism, but most since diagnosis. Skip those if they’re not needed; but since parkinsonism is so personal and varies so from person to person, I think that you need to know who’s speaking to you.

This isn’t an autobiography, but a lot of me is between these covers.

And last, this book is mainly for others with Parkinson’s and their care-partners, but not exclusively. Much of it applies to all with a chronic disease and to all who carry the burden with them. And all of it applies to fellow pilgrims, wending their own way home.

(I was a Roman Catholic Christian for the first thirty years of my life and have been a Quaker Christian for the last forty.)

And so, wobble along with me! I hope I’ll be good company as you read

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