February 16, 2015: My 65th Birthday

~by Louis Templeman

I entered my 65th birthday with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. For several years I have had symptoms which I easily and readily dismissed as something more benign and less threatening. By the time I saw the neurologist I was no longer denying the possibility. The resting tremor in my left arm was too pronounced, too regular and too irritating to pretend I had something else.

I do not know what this means for me. I have not yet read the brochures the doctor gave me. Sometimes information helps ease the stress and sometimes it seems a mockery to the dreams and plans I had for the last chapters of my life. The news seems to me to indicate my last years of living could well become more like my years of dying. There is a certain degree of morbidity attached to this news.

A couple of friends, after receiving my news at our regular bi-weekly supper meeting, tried to comfort me by pointing to the examples of Helen Keller and Joni Erickson Tada. One was a lifelong deaf-mute (I do not know the more sensitive handle for her handicap) and one is a quadriplegic. Yet, each lived full lives with great spiritual and personal legacies of the value of life in spite of difficult health issues.

The two examples are certainly worth considering, however, they came off as a desperate recovery after receiving desperate news. It felt a little hollow. And, unsatisfying to me.

I still have a couple of tests to take to rule out anything that might imitate Parkinson-like symptoms. I assume they will only confirm the doctor’s dark and heavy word: Parkinson’s.

My first reaction was of bewilderment and self-pity: I mean, just how much is one man supposed to take? I tried not to stay there. I have certainly been down some dark tunnels but, to my way of thinking, self-pity never produces good fruit. I have traveled down enough bad roads and done the work of prayer and therapy to have picked up a few tools to help me avoid depression and the slough of despair.

One of my favorite is to recall how I got myself out of prior dark times. I have three I use most often. The practical one is I live one day at a time. Each day has enough difficulty to keep you busy if, indeed, you want to stay busy worrying. And each day has challenges and tasks I can accomplish, even if it is nothing more valiant than taking out the trash. Each task completed represents a victory, a success. And, it does not take many successes before the day itself feels like a success. By living one day at a time most of my days can feel like good days.

The second practical tool is to keep myself from being isolated. Fortunately my wife has already assured me we will get through this together. That alone has taken much of the sting out of my worry. I also have several meetings, both weekly and bi-weekly that I am faithful to. Keeping up with friends and making new one will distract me with vitality.

The third tool is spiritual. The truth is most of my spiritual progress, most of my memorable epiphanies, and times of spiritual progress came on the back of trouble as I trudged through a dark night. I will have to use this bad news to prompt me towards prayer and meditation. If this disease bring times of darkness, and how could it not, then I choose to use those times to find light – the light of healing and hope. The psalmist famously wrote, “. . . though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you (God) are with me.” This will not be a lonesome valley but rather a path of fellowship.

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Louis writes from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his old friend and wonderful bride, Joy. They transformed their friendship into the sacrament of marriage on August 30, 2012. They share their home with two self-absorbed, playful, twin cats (Flo and Jet) and one very allusive and arrogant cat named D.

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