Monday, January 24, 2011

Look On the Bright Side

Fifteen minutes after reading numerous pages detailing my friend, Keith's new diagnosis, my heart groans and the tears come. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, is no stranger. I wasn't even a teenager when my very own Grandma, Ida, was diagnosed. Clumsiness, tripping over one's feet, decreased motor function, slurred speech, difficulty breathing and swallowing are all stages one enters and never recovers from. At its final outset, one is totally imprisoned in their own body, unable to speak or move, but fully cognizant of everything happening around them. In my opinion, it embodies the worst of the worst. Many, including myself, wrestle with the why's of it all.

Keith and my Grandma are not unalike; both of them highly intelligent, creative, gifted individuals. Keith, an author, illustrator, musician and teacher at one time, who is now confined to his bed, still writes. He dictates and is currently on his third novel. Ida, my Grandma, was a fantastic nurse, artistan, tailor, gardener, and teacher. She made me a Kermit the frog piggy bank and sewed a beautiful christening gown for my brother when he was just a wee little one. Beautiful people with beautiful gifts, robbed of a fully functioning body, no longer able to freely create.

My eyes looked up towards the beige ceiling of my kitchen as I began to cry out a prayer of intercession on behalf of my friend, "Please God, heal my friend. I don't like to see him suffer this way. Please, God. Please, take his ALS away."

We never like to see anyone suffer, especially someone of such beauty and gifting, even less so when it is someone so near and dear. ALS does not discriminate. It robs men and women alike. It robs and robs and robs until there is nothing left to take. However, despite its tragic fury, I've come to ponder what and how it gives.

I realize it gives an opportunity for one's true colors to show, both the individual along with the family and friends affected. It gives an opportunity for us to show kindness to those in need and to weep with those who weep. It gives an opportunity to count our blessings and think about what is most important in this life and the one to come. It gives an opportunity to fight the good fight or cash it all in early and kick the bucket. It gives us some of the most painful and memorable lessons we will ever learn. In its face, we will either cower with fear and despair more unbearably or learn to live, laugh, and love more heartily.

Keith's wife, Kate, is now one of my hero's. As a dedicated and loving wife, she cares for him at home. She is a fine nurse who loves her husband and tends to all his needs. It is a beautiful testimony of the words, "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, and for richer or poorer..." lived out. She is still able to smile and chuckle as she takes everything in stride. She is thankful for the many blessings they have been given.

I am thankful for the privilege to know them and share with them. I am thankful for another visit and opportunity to show kindness, even if it only means sitting beside my friend and reading a few stories to him.

ALS takes and it gives, but I must believe it is not an end in and of itself. There is so much more for us to enjoy in the life beyond here and now. For ALS can neither rob us of our souls nor the eternal joy we have been given to possess. If we are to press onward, we must believe the best is yet come.

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