Take a look at this picture for a moment. What do you see?
Recently my wife and I were driving to Target to buy the usual 50 items with our 5 item list. As we turned into the sprawling parking lot, we noticed a sign in a nearby video store window that seemed to read “Rent ALS.” We looked at each other, bewildered, before realizing our folly. It was just an advertisement for 99-cent video rentals.
We couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves. We tend to live and breath ALS. Every moment of every day. Quite literally, I have it on the brain. As another family likes to note, it’s like listening to the ALS channel on the radio. All ALS, all the time. It’s a constant struggle to resist defining our lives by this disease.
But as we drove home that day, I got to thinking: what if you really could rent ALS? Or any other disease? What if people could find out what it’s like to live with a fatal illness without actually getting one? You just go to the store, pick a disease like ALS or pancreatic cancer off the shelf, and take it home for a few days.
Or say you’re in the mood for something a bit more gory, like a horror flick, you can grab Flesh-Eating Bacteria Part 3, swing through a drive-thru for some food for the kids (you don’t want to be cooking around that stuff), and enjoy a nice evening of screaming desperation and agony. Return it the next day (that one is better left as an overnight rental), and voila! Life goes back to normal. Imagine the relief!
People could use it like a magic elixir to better appreciate life. If I found a way to bottle it, I could make billions. Heck, I'd down a few bottles. I don’t get enough myself. My disease is moving just slow enough that I sometimes fall into old habits of taking things for granted. Plus, I’ve always wanted to try out black lung disease.
All the money would go to research of course. Great idea for a fundraiser. Give the attendees the disease you’re trying to cure and the donation plates will overflow. Better yet, give it to politicians. They’d bust their butts so hard to find a treatment that lobbyists against gay marriage wouldn’t get 30 seconds of their time.
You know what though? Forget the money. What if I could lend my illness to someone, trade physical health with them, even for a day or two? I could finally work on the projects I no longer have the time or strength for. I could feel productive again. Believe it or not, I actually miss mowing the lawn. More importantly, I could swing my daughter through the air or give her a piggy-back ride for the first time.
Obviously, as a result of my preoccupation with ALS, I tend to fantasize about the impossible. People don’t really need to rent a disease to appreciate their lives. Besides, it wouldn’t be the same if people knew they could just drop it off in the return slot. Might eliminate the need for late fees I suppose. But good luck trying to get me to take back my illness. Suckers would be renting to own as far as I’m concerned.
Fantasy or not, I think being able to feel how others feel would be enormously beneficial to the world. I know I need to try and do it more often. Like the old saying, perhaps we should all try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Although with ALS, you probably couldn’t go quite that far.