Editors note: A portion of this column was inadvertently omitted in last week’s Crier. It is re-run here in its entirety.
The headline is a question I get a dozen times a day, almost always from friends and neighbors who want a real answer. Bless them for that.
I usually palm the question off with a laugh and, “Still wobbling along!” That’s a shameless plug, I know, for my Parkinson’s book, but my answer’s on target: I am still wobbling along, mostly forward, with unplanned, reeling sidesteps to retain balance.
But I’m not falling down. That’s due to six weeks of great therapy under Mike Quinn at the Bassett Railroad Avenue clinic, followed by steady work with Jim Jordan at the Clark Sports Center. Mike sent me on to Jim with an exercise prescription, and Jim’s holding me to it. I’m at the center three mornings a week, twice downstairs in the exercise room, once for a stint of swimming.
That regimen, plus good medication (more of it since I last reported to you), has kept me literally on my feet and doing things I really enjoy — including writing to all of you.
With that said, there’s no denying that I’m losing ground — or, if you prefer, Parkinson’s is gaining on me. And the most haunting change is that it’s now creeping into my cognition.
More than once, I’ve told you that this stuff feels like sailing toward a fogbank, toward almost sure dementia. Well, the first wisps of fog are now in my head, drifting around ominously. I have moments of real confusion, at least to the point of being unable to lay out ideas in sequence. (I believe that’s called “thinking.”) This means that, more and more, I freeze up at the keyboard and have literally to back off from it to allow for a rebooting. Not of the computer. Of me.
It also means that big chunks of my memory are suddenly missing. And I don’t mean trouble with short-term memory; that’s been plaguing me (and dear Anne!) since this stuff began. I mean the wonderful stuff I’ve gathered for decades, stowed away, and could draw on at will.
I mean the whole line of the kings and queens of England, Alfred the Great to Elizabeth the second. I could pull up their names and most of their coronation dates easily, and they became at easy reference for paralleling a given on in time with Louis XIV or Ivan the Terrible or Genghis Khan or Leif Erickson — and with historic events back to the A.D. eighth century. And the same with the line of Caesars and with the events of their reigns and with their famous contemporaries.
These days, I reach for the fourth century B.C. or the A.D. ninth century, and they’re gone. My long-term memory is like a glacier, large chunks of which are breaking off and drifting away into the misty seas. I think that process is called, “calving.” Well, my head’s calving at a great rate.
And so: When shaky hands on the keyboard align with decaying memory and shaky thinking— then, as the saying goes, “That’s all she wrote.” In my case, “he.” And literally.
Jim Austin’s got a last column on file, in case this should happen suddenly (strokes, mini and maxi, hit guys my age and condition; and embolisms, too.) But I’m planning that Jim won’t have to pull that column out of the file for a long, long, time. I’m planning a leisurely, if ungraceful, descent down this slope, with pauses to rest along the way.
And, apart from my shaky physical being, how about the far more important question? As Quakers would ask, “Is it well with thy soul?”
My answer is, “Yea, verily, my soul’s OK, thank thee.”
As you know, I’ve long since defined Parkinsonism as a gift — not one I’d have chosen for myself, but a gift nonetheless, no less a one than my life itself and everything that’s marking its course.
When you think about it, a gift must have three characteristics: First, it must be of real value. (If somebody hands you something and says, “Here, take this damned thing. I’ve never liked it anyway,” then you haven’t received a gift but an insult.)
Second, it must be freely given; otherwise, it’s payment, or maybe a bribe.
Third, it must be undeserved by the receiver; otherwise, the second point applies here, too.
Now, nobody with sense denies that the gift of life is precious. Out of all the possible human conceptions that could have taken place down the ages, a specific chain of them leads to me -- and, of course, to you. A single zygote elbowed out of that line, and one of us would be talking to somebody else.
So life is a precious gift, and undeserved. Hey, how could we, in a state of non-existence, have won or claimed a right to it?
And it was freely given, though that raises the huge questions, “by whom?” and “why?” Those questions (Dostoevsky called them, “the annoying Ultimates) lead right into philosophy, theology, and perhaps a stance of belief.
As to the last-mentioned, I have my own and will gladly share it for the price of a coffee or a beer. But not in this column. I will say, however, that it’s my Quaker Christian belief that is holding me steady in spirit, even as my body and mind get wobblier.
But buy me a cup of coffee. I won’t proselytize, I promise! (Quakers aren’t out to recruit.) But, if you want, I will talk.