Friday, March 04, 2005

Let's make a deal

Have you ever wanted to be a paraplegic? Even a quadriplegic? Or to have HIV? Perhaps some type of cancer? I have.

Bargaining is something we all do, particularly when we're trying to deal with something difficult. We beg and plead with whatever powers that be to make it better, to make it go away, to make it anything, anything, other than ALS. And if such a wish is granted, we promise we will do everything we can to help the less fortunate, to give up our vices, to be better people. But in cases where things actually do get better, how many of us stay to true to our word?

Oddly enough I had already been doing some bargaining before my diagnosis. When we found out Kirsten was pregnant, I started to worry about things like Downs syndrome, spina bifida, and the myriad other things that could harm our baby. I distinctly remember sitting in my car, negotiating with God, that if anything bad had to happen to Kirsten or our child, to please take it out on me instead. Let me bare the burden. Little did I suspect that bargaining chip would actually be cashed in. So soon. With such harshness. While I certainly wondered, I don't honestly believe that God or anything else gave me ALS because of that bargain. But even now, I wouldn't take it back.

I recently read about a skiing accident in Colorado, which occurred during the same weekend I was out there. A man was back-country skiing with his 12 and 15-year old children. They reached the bottom of the hill and waited for their dad. He never showed up. He had fallen into a ravine and, buried in several feet of snow, suffocated to death. As I read, I had two distinct feelings. Sympathy for his family of course. And jealousy. I envied this man because he was allowed to know his kids for more than 12 years. I would give up a great deal for the promise of more time with my wife and daughter. I would have traded my fate for his in a second.

Don't get me wrong. I would never wish ALS on anyone. But I've spent a great deal of time realizing that there are very few diseases or disabilities out there that I wouldn't rather have. In another article I read, a doctor stated that of all the illnesses out there, pancreatic cancer and ALS were the worst. I suspect some folks might disagree. What each of us feels we could and could not deal with is relative. For myself, I'm inclined to agree. But at least there's one illness that I wouldn't trade for.

On the other hand, I wouldn't trade my situation for most of the folks affected by the tsunami. I wouldn't trade with the 5-year old child who has terminal cancer. Or a victim of the holocaust. Or even someone who lives a long life, but does so with constant hardship and need. Like I've said before, my life up to this point has been nothing short of wonderful.

Yeah, the 'grass is greener' philosophy is a tempting one. And useful in small doses. Helps you gain some perspective on your place in the world. To realize that you're not alone in your suffering. Or to appreciate what you actually have. Everyone has their problems, and to them, they can seem to encompass everything. Teenagers are the perfect example. But all things are relative. No matter what hand you've been dealt, chances are pretty good that a whole lot of people have had it better, and a whole lot have had it worse. It might feel like it sometimes, but nobody has the market cornered on pain and suffering.

And appearances can be so deceiving. How often do you pass a nice big house and think you might be better off there? That perhaps the family living there is somehow happier and more fulfilled than you? But are they really? Maybe a failing marriage, a chronic illness, or the loss of a loved one is dwelling inside. Or maybe they have the most god-awful wallpaper you've ever seen.

The point is, I'm trying so incredibly hard these days to keep focused on what I do have. What good things have come my way. And not on the things I'd rather and might never have. Last fall, if Monty Hall had come to me and said "Son, you can keep the life you have right now, with ALS, and trade it for what's in the box or behind the curtain", I may very well have made the deal. But the more I've thought about things, all the good things I've had and still do, I think my response would be "No deal Monty. You can keep your box. I'll stick with what I've got." I just hope I can keep up the strength of that way of thinking as time goes on.

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