Monday, January 09, 2006

Young dog, new tricks

Nothing matters anymore. Those were among the first words that ran through my brain when I was told I had a fatal illness. Nothing beyond the obvious - family and friends - would ever feel important to me again. Not my career, not my hobbies, not books, movies, politics, or sports. And certainly not trivial things like laundry, shaving, or brushing my teeth. Or so I felt during those first several weeks of shock. I did eventually start to brush my teeth once in awhile.

When time may be short, the compulsion to assume it’s not worth learning new tricks can be overwhelming. Nothing seems worthwhile. While that tendency may be due to physical limitations, and certainly understandable, I’m convinced it boils down to a choice. Do I assume the worst and essentially give up? Or do I take each day in stride, do what I can while I can, and leave the ‘old dog’ routine to the dogs?

My wife recognized my determined apathy and gave me a gift certificate for a continuing education class at the University of Minnesota. I got so excited I signed up for two: a biomedical ethics seminar and a writing class, which met once a week last fall for 3 and 4 sessions, respectively.

Both turned out to be very thought-provoking and educational, and it felt really good to be doing something new and stimulating. Although I must admit, my motives for choosing those classes were not purely academic. In the biomedical ethics class, we discussed health issues such as infectious disease management, medical research, and end of life issues, all of which matter more to me now.

I also had a very practical reason for wanting to improve my writing. The class helped me focus on writing more concisely, which will be very important as my ability to type continues to fade. I need to choose my words carefully to minimize the effort in getting them on the page.

But the important thing is for me to keep putting those words out there. To keep myself excited and engaged with the world around me. I struggle to do it every day, but the effort is therapeutic. I signed up for a screenwriting class this winter. This young dog intends to put a few more tricks up his sleeve. Better yet, I intend to continue using the tricks I already know. I might even start shaving again some day.

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