A curious power

Lately, it has been difficult for me to get through the day. A mild summer cold and insomnia have made overcoming Parkinson’s constant nag to inaction increasingly impossible to ignore. Condemned to boredom’s nightmare, often unable to muster the energy to stand, I ward off apathetic languor as it vies for supremacy with callous free-floating anxiety.

Patience is Parkinson’s strongest suit: relentless, dull-tipped incursions methodically eat away at my stamina. Given Parkinson’s timeframe for success—measured in decades—it would appear inevitable that the disease will eventually win, a conclusion I’ve endured as an essential premise for the past 17 years.

My singular refusal to allow that day to be today is all that has kept the game in play. So, what is it that keeps this baleful diversion going? My competitive nature certainly is part of it; I’ve never enjoyed losing, even after fully accepting that winning is not an option. Death itself does not scare me inordinately, but I do grow concerned about the inevitable hardships encountered enroute to fulfilling mortality’s contract.

There is one thing that inspires me, however: a fascination with the curious power that twists and turns the lives of family members and how it might influence their travels. I could care less about popular notions of success: whether my children achieve wealth, status, or fame gratifies me only at the margins. That they are generally happy, reflective, and kind fits my definition of success far better.

When my father was weeks away from passing on, his last piece of advice to me was always to stay curious. It has taken me years to understand, but I finally appreciate why: in the end, curiosity might be all that remains as animation quits our still form.

Melancholy’s dark anthem

Unconditional love’s elegant beauty slices through life’s clutter, revealing the hidden edge of sacred meaning and conceding the barest glimpse of grace without relinquishing a tight grip on neverland’s illusory realities.

To love unconditionally is to best a universal fear, to banish love’s nebulous shadow permanently and irrevocably. Surrendering to life’s quizzical dream completely, welcoming the welling up of the natural glow of playful happiness, dismisses love’s darker side, ejecting the fear-mongering dualism running rampant throughout the multiplicity of man’s institutional expression.

Ego’s stranglehold on the reigns of the psyche demands blood payment to eke out even the barest of truths, to allow it to bask in fading light. Discovering love’s secret key bears the cost of enduring arduous self-reflection in the blackened harmony of melancholy’s anthem.

With unconditional love comes the joy of permanent absolution, a price well worth paying.

Why the smile?

Helpless, without recourse, the rug pulled out from beneath-your-feet sensation of abandoned vulnerability, of impending doom on all fronts: it sits heavy within me. Bored and tired, achy with life pains that refuse to dissipate, my regular habits for coaxing a soft landing to the day’s futility hang dead within me. It feels like I’ve got nothing; I am an empty shell of oblivion.

My thinking mind, wearing life’s duality around my neck like a collar, has no temporary solution, no respite to offer. I bounce from one empty diversion to another, making no progress, finding no exit from the invisible mousetrap.

Enough.

Life is a hopeless struggle to the rhythm of silent music. I surrender completely and utterly. I listen to music. I go outside for a slow walk around the yard. I force a smile, and it helps. I repeat those words heard in deafening silence so long ago: it’s all okay, because it really is.

My smile broadens. It still really is.

Creation

Having just finished a week of nonstop activity, I welcome the solitude of a day without commitments. It is a dizzying reminder that I have grown over the decades; seedlings of ebullient wisdom nestle deeply in my humble dwelling of being.

Lately, I enjoy writing in the afternoons while listening to loud, hard-driving music. These rhythms overwhelm me with undiluted veracity as I struggle with a staggering fear, the shadow side of accepting “what is,” until creation flows through me, pounding to the music’s beat, arousing a twisted union with soul in an oblique detour as I surrender to creation’s bliss.

It feels strange, out of place, to acknowledge Parkinson’s flowing from cause to effect and back again. The universe’s circuitous route to insight vies for supremacy with the blackened precipice lining the road’s edge.

Harnessing imagination’s practical application of creation frees the soul to touch upon the cryptic circumstance of unconditional love playing with everyday silliness; rendering the carefree source of all suffering—stifling knowledge—into a vindication of the child’s game.

In its simplest form, this is why we are here, in this moment, at this place: to play with a child’s abandon and a sage’s wisdom, secure in the knowledge that loving-kindness awaits.

Life is hard

Life is hard, and it does not get easier as we age. With an incurable, progressive disease like Parkinson’s there are bound to be moments with little or nothing to look forward to, which begs the question, why continue?

I remember when I began asking that question in 2014, more as a hypothetical as I was mostly happy at the time. It was just before my deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery, on the steep precipice of decline nine years after my Parkinson’s diagnosis. But the real possibility of gaining a renewed lease on life because of DBS existed back then. Eight and a half years later, there is no such “hail Mary” play for me to delay the inevitable descent into stillness.

What is it that keeps me from constant depression? Life could get far worse as Parkinson’s progresses, and it probably will. So why stick around?

Seventeen years ago, just months after my diagnosis, with my pilot’s license rescinded, my job gone, and no idea what would happen next, I promised myself that I would take advantage of whatever time and capability the disease left me. The only certainty before me was pain, discomfort, and death. Fuck Parkinson’s.

Six months after diagnosis, I was skippering our new boat far into Canadian waters with my beautiful wife and children. Since then, I’ve tried to squeeze every last bit of life from chance and circumstance.

My most meaningful life experiences have been born from the fires of Parkinson’s threatened constraint, allowing me to grow and love without reservation. Yes, “Fuck Parkinson’s,” I say, even as I embrace the disease. Without conspicuous challenge stretching our core prospects, life tends to pass us by.

It makes me smile. Hey, Parkinson’s—you’re the best thing to ever happen to me. What do you have to say to that?

A friend of the strangest sort

Astros, Peloponnesus Peninsula, Greece, 1976.

Gently kicking face down on the surface, I breathe deeply from the plastic snorkel with disciplined practice while following the shadowy school of giant fish on the bottom. The water is clear, but the ninety-foot depth hosts a confusing array of thermoclines. These sharp drops in water temperature create subtle obscurations to visibility, wavy zones of disparate water densities.

My 14-year-old mind tries to process a plan for the impending free dive and return to the surface. How will I know when I’ve overstayed my single breath welcome? Will I even reach the bottom? And if I do, is my speargun powerful enough to kill such huge fish? The deepest that I’ve been before today is just sixty feet.

A moment later and any indecisiveness is gone as I take a final deep breath and rapidly pike my legs up, waiting until my fins are entirely submerged before I start to kick. With speargun extended forward to streamline my form, I rely on my powerful thigh muscles to push me toward the bottom.

I savor the frontier feel of jeopardizing it all for an enigmatic prize. My sole companion on this new adventure is a novel sensation—fear. I am profoundly alone. It is just me, the fish, and the sea. I pass sixty feet without hesitation, ignoring the awful sensation of lungs already craving air, a clear and imminent warning that I’ve gone too far, that I am beyond redemption’s range…

As the incident’s physical sensations pass through me almost half a century later, the abject terror is fresh and eerily sweet, much like the out-of-control feeling of a Parkinson’s brain fog. It is a familiar, time-honored fear—a friend of the strangest sort—that joins my downward plunge, still feeling utterly alone and craving air, in a great circle of reflective mastery.

Several actual Amazon customer reviews of “The Lost Intruder, the Search for a Missing Navy Jet”

“Superlative writing that takes aviator adventure tales to a new level of existentialism. There are pain-filled episodes described that are indelible once read. However, the author found that his debilitations unexpectedly enhanced his inner life and perceptions of others. Very memorable and graciously instructive. This is a rare find.”

  • Kmag54           August 13, 2020

“I first heard about this story from an Air & Space article about “Christine” and the many gremlins this aircraft had. I couldn’t wait to download and read the whole story. If you’re any kind of aviation-enthusiast you will be drawn into the technical details of how Peter and his team did what the Navy couldn’t. Despite the hardships mother nature threw, Peter was battling one even greater but fought through it better than I’m sure most of us could have. And of course there will be some characters along the way that make things even more interesting. Buy it, read it, enjoy it because it’s worth it… and it happened.”

  • MLiep              July 5, 2021

“Incredible, fast paced, captivating read. This book works as a how-to on a process for identifying an impossible goal and making it happen but the author adds so much more. The documentation of the search, details on technical diving and military aircraft are the threads which the author weaves though the larger story of life with a challenging disease. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you dive, fly, are into military aviation or boat in the Puget Sound this is a must read. Very inspirational.”

  • Amazon customer      September 12, 2017

“An incredible adventure story combining diving and flying during a naval aviator’s quest to find an aircraft lost in the sea, while fiercely fighting a debilitating personal physical battle. This book is an inspiring page turner about the indomitable human spirit!”

  • Amazon customer      December 6, 2017

Delightfully depressed

A few select songs incapacitate with their haunting beauty, stranding me in a netherworld of delightful depression, frozen in a timeless dimension of emotion. Lola, by the Kinks, has always been one of these songs for me. These compositions evoke a purity of joyful pain that overwhelms, losing me in a cathartic confusion of authenticity that I’ve only recently recognized as the sharing of unconditional love between unfamiliar souls.

This experience is not today’s fairy tale notion of romantic love that we’ve come to believe reflects truth. It is far more potent a sensation, bringing one to their knees in the moment’s ecstasy, without regard for sex or society’s veiled ingratitude for the gift of life. I find myself encountering this phenomenon more frequently, the greater my Parkinson’s induced incapacity.

Usually precipitated with a shared look into the eyes of a stranger in passing, it infuses me with an immediate need to cry, deeply, not in sorrowful wails of expectation, but in a tsunami of clarity beyond human convention, unknowable energy coursing through me with all the beauty that life brings. With the immutable transience of grace, welcomed in the glory of all that is, we share through infinity’s moment a glimpse of the ultimate wisdom of the eternal.

Preparing to land

Trying not to squirm in the 737’s exit row, I struggle to avoid bringing attention to my condition and risk losing the relative comfort of extra legroom. As I stare at the boarding passengers, no earth-shattering revelations pay visitation. Carefully reviewing the emergency exit card, I weigh the value of being a former airline pilot with emergency exit training with that of the average fully physically capable passenger.

If I am fortunate enough to travel solo again, the overarching lesson is that I grow progressively weaker each day away from home. Sleep is as elusive as the disease is fair, unrecognizable in form or effect. Each successive day brings a progressively worsening brain fog, less ability to speak cogently for much of the day, and less independence. I thought Parkinson’s would behave similarly to home if given sufficient attention. I was wrong.

The effectiveness of my deep brain stimulation (dbs) system is waning. I’ve assumed that as dbs loses effectiveness, previously dbs-masked symptoms will present unusually quickly. My assumption could be faulty. It is a question for my neurologist next appointment, but it is growing apparent that the current rapid rate of disease progression could also continue.

I know where the finish line of this race lies; the desired speed and direction to traverse the course are still mysterious, however, wreaking emotional wreckage with haphazard intent. Gently, with heart’s still longing to bracket likely corners of retribution, my future becomes apparent with a sense of serendipity ordinarily reserved for dreams and flow-states of unusual grace. And then, in an enduring spectacle of confusion, it joins with the grand mystery, penetrating form with the ease of the ethereal.

Home is gradually coming into view.

Just like a big boy

Sleeping well, at least for my rapidly evolving standards, provides practical as well as emotional support, allowing me to walk without incident from the airport hotel to the check in counters. I wait in line, renewed confidence gradually calming my rapidly beating heart: I’ve done this hundreds of times, I remind myself; it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it.

With my main bag checked, I prepare mentally to transit security. I glance at my boarding pass for the departure gate, and my pulse races in a burst of adrenaline: it is in the unfamiliar south concourse.

Fortunately, security is empty, one of few benefits of a 7:05 am Sunday departure. Deciphering airport signage goes smoothly, still, the slightest movement takes tremendous effort and everything I do is so damn slow. I get to the south concourse train with lots of time to spare, but I’m unable to calm my mind, eyes furiously darting from face to face in hope of recognition, until—much to my surprise—they lock onto one.

I’ve made this mistake before in my desperation to see a friendly face, with imagination and hallucination interchanging in rapid succession. Is that Brad?

At the other end of a cluster of people waiting to board the train is a pair of uniformed pilots. The captain looks like an old friend from navy days, not seen since 2017 when he and his wife attended a local presentation I was giving on The Lost Intruder. He catches my eye and starts walking over.

It is Brad. Instantly relieved, my heart swells with gratitude, and, suddenly, I’m overwhelmed with a fervent sense of well-being and a deep abiding love for nothing; for everything. My eyes moisten, and voice chokes as I struggle to speak, and I’m suddenly grateful to be alive.

“Hi Brad,” I sputter, an impossibly broad smile gracing my face. Despite incorrigible hardship of inevitable magnitude, I am joyful to be in life. Brad and his first officer, each pulling a wheeled, black suitcase, amble with casual ease to where I stand. We start to talk.

“Traveling alone, Pete?” Brad asks, oblivious to the pertinence of the question.

“Yes,” I answer in a slight slur. “Just like a big boy.”

Overcome with a feeling of well-being, I stand and smile.

It is all okay; it really is.