Learn to quietly revel in the faults of others, not in an egotistical dance stemming from anger, fear, or desire, but secure in the heartfelt belief that embracing their failings elevates both of you in shared humanity, creating the imperfection that transforms art into a masterpiece, proving to a fragmented world in frightened disarray that it is all okay, that everything is as it should be.
With the winter sun quitting the western sky so early, I’ve developed a habit of taking the boat out to watch the sunset in communion with nature. The nightly ritual gets me out of the house while enjoying the water’s healing powers. Solo boat rides, often playing in the dark currents under the Deception Pass Bridge, also keep me sharp. Maybe just a little scared, too.
The need to radio the Coast Guard is not uncommon in the vicinity of Deception Pass for various reasons, the most common being missing kayakers and the occasional jumper off the bridge. Effective communication would be helpful when this happens or if my boat is in trouble. But late afternoon activity brings with it risk: my voice becomes slurred, soft at times and unintelligible.
Although I remain confident in my driving abilities, I appear to be drunk, making the drive home a potential opportunity to enjoy free local lodging courtesy of the Island County Sheriff. If pulled over, I’ve prepared a note ginned up on my home computer and printed out, explaining my situation, including my inability to articulate clearly. Still, this will only work if the written explanation is understood and believed.
There are many reasons to avoid this behavior, but notably, just one to continue: it brings me joy.
It is worth reflecting on the world we have created, humble in the recognition that—like all things—this, too, will change. Prioritizing happiness provides a physical reset, encouraging authenticity and revitalizing the ability to be empathetic with others.
Helping myself first ensures my presence for the long haul of helping others endure life’s suffering. Please consider taking just a few minutes daily to stop, reflect, and fully feel what it means to be alive in this land of form we all visit.
After all, we were not put here to stay. We were put here to play.
What makes a person resilient? Why do some people with a Parkinson’s diagnosis remain active through their second and even their third decade, while others don’t make it five years? One answer might be that societal pressure to treat a person with a severe ailment as a victim disempowers them, significantly diminishing their ability to fight back.
Before frightening anyone, let me explain that the danger is with those playing the long-term victim role. It is okay to temporarily play the part of victim, say during the initial diagnosis surprise. Get your complaining done and move on.
Resilience gains strength with a rebellious attitude toward the popular narrative of victimhood. It thrives when keeping an open mind, becoming available to those who put the well-being of others ahead of their interest. And sustained resilience takes hard work and patience.
But resilience only settles deeply into a person’s soul after developing a habit pattern of doing things the hard way.
Choosing to not get a disabled parking pass is an example of the hard way. The extra walking is not only healthy but also boosts morale by avoiding the promotion of self-identification as someone with Parkinson’s disease. Do you want to be defined first and foremost by a disease?
Solo boating and impromptu swimming are doing things the hard way. The hard way has me racing against myself up a steep hiking trail in the recurring epiphany that I can only lose by quitting.
The hard way puts us out of our comfort zone, facing challenges that test our thinking, opening the body to positive change, and allowing for a low-grade flow state of increased performance. It can lead to a fully engaged and satisfying life.
Life is hard. Why make it harder?
Leaving town after shopping at Walmart, I noticed a woman approaching each car as they stopped for the traffic light. Judging from her neat clothes, she was not a typical homeless person. She carried about a dozen flower bouquets of four roses a piece. According to her cardboard sign, all proceeds went to support her family of four.
Despite her well-groomed appearance, she was, indeed, homeless, an Afghan refugee in Washington State for regional resettlement. A collective guilt washed over me for leaving Afghanistan in dangerous disarray, at our responsibility for her predicament.
Lowering the passenger window, I handed her a bill of disproportionate denomination. She looked at me, face breaking into a broad smile, the unspoken contract to resolve her children’s hunger fulfilled for another day. She showed no bitterness, an example of the power of acceptance.
My reflection turned to Afghanistan. I thought of a friend, a former marine, who had completed two combat tours in Afghanistan after experiencing a pair of combat deployments to Iraq. Now a fully functional civilian, he radiated a powerful, righteous resentment that, in some intangible way, we had not been straight with him. I had to agree.
Eyes cast down to the road before me, I thought of those Veterans home in body and mind, but still fighting desperate battles of a trauma left unchecked by a society that didn’t want accountability for war’s devastation.
We all wrestle with unseen daemons, literal Godsends of spiritual enrichment stigmatized to invisibility by a cultural consumerism that leaves us bland and unfeeling. Acknowledging the suffering of another as being their unique cross to bear, terribly beautiful in authenticity, allows for the engagement of a kindred spirit, soothing the lost, comforting the broken.
Still driving, the pained confusion of a generation’s misplaced destiny joined my imagination with a grateful refugee’s smile in a communal charity of tears, my humble tribute to all touched by war’s struggle.
The mutual gift of kindness is real, even in the land of Walmart.
My son, Jared, and his fantastic girlfriend, Maddi, left this morning after a visit punctuated by deep conversation and hikes. Yesterday, Jared gave me an early Christmas present.
Jared didn’t fall far from my irreverently twisted humor tree. Past gifts include an “I ain’t dead yet, Mother Fuckers” coffee mug and a t-shirt sporting the pithy statement “Not today, Satan.” The icing on the cake was my 60th birthday when Jared and my daughter pooled resources to buy me a wheelchair. I silently vowed to let it collect dust for as long as possible, maybe forever,
I was prepared for about anything except the present’s composition: it was a thoughtfully creative gift. A glass frame enclosed an underwater photo of my final dive in 2020 next to a neat paragraph of laser-etched writing. Two of Jared’s friends took the picture of Jared and me floating side by side, 55 feet underwater off the beach in Mukilteo.
Next to the photo were the final lines from a favorite poem, The Quitter, by Robert Service. I used to recite the poem from memory to both of my children in the hope that it would provide a rallying cry when enduring one of life’s inevitable rough spots.
Without going into detail, Jared has been in just such a rough spot for the past two years. Instead of becoming consumed by problems, he included the poem excerpt to help bolster my determination as my eighteen-year battle with Parkinson’s takes a dark and dirty turn for the worse.
I was blown away with pride for my son as he leverages suffering into fortitude, discovering an inner resilience not unlike my experience doing battle with Parkinson’s. Jared, I am proud beyond words of the grace and compassion with which you move through life: you are my inspiration.
Thank you. I love you more than I can say, Jared, and Merry Christmas.
Living landlocked is not for me – being close to the ocean is a must. From my long-time hobby, shipwreck diving, to my first real job as a navy A-6 Intruder carrier pilot, to where I choose to live today, the ocean’s influence on my life has been nothing short of monumental.
Military flight training appealed to my adolescent mind. But the notion of launching from a ship thousands of miles out to sea, with no emergency shore-based airport available, compelled me to join the navy. The sea was my ham-fisted ally, ready to kill in a monstrous hug, a friend who, despite her unforgiving nature, would back me up as long as I gave the day everything I had and, if need be, more.
As a child, I basked in the revelation of the unknown, mesmerized by the ocean’s contradiction of enigmatic obscurity, spending hours snorkeling, looking for anything unique. When too cold to continue, I would park my wrinkled young body on the rock jetty adjacent the beach, radiantly lost, gazing into the depths. When confronted with critical decisions, confused, or depressed, I have always looked to the omniscient depths for answers.
The ocean has marked every step of my life, inspiring a long list of adrenaline-charged memories. Self-discovery, the finale’ of my life challenges, welcomes the ocean’s serene fortitude.
Disguised by a thin veil of the world’s harshest interpretation of reality, the ocean’s wisdom is raw, unrefined. On the seas, there is no societal stigma; no complex cultural etiquette to follow. One is free to be. Born a Pisces, Poseidon has always been my god.
It rained all day, imparting a halting melancholy to the prevailing mood for my wife, the dogs, and me; we all seemed affected. The summer was gone, and it was time to start the work to prepare for winter, an indelible tarnish to the gold in our remaining years.
But by late afternoon, blue was on the horizon, a rich shade of azure reflecting nature’s compensatory response to the earlier rain. It was going to be an impeccably clear sunset.
Magnificence is universal in the Pacific Northwest, and my gratitude for the natural beauty of where we live is an insignificant fee for such sanctification. I decided to drive the ten minutes to the beach to watch the sun disappear behind the Olympic Mountains, some fifty miles away across the straits of Juan de Fuca.
The beach I chose for my rendezvous with the setting sun faces west, directly into the prevailing winds where the modest surf could not conceal the imputed promise of the water’s cyclic tidal purpose. Standing amid the ragged driftwood with face to the wind, I thought about where I had been, the ethereal everywhere of my life, a story preparing to end. And begin.
Reluctantly, returning to the car to drive home, the day’s melancholy returned with animated purity.
Topping the final hill to my destination, a murmuration of Starlings played in the wind just shy of rooftop height, awakening a dormant recollection of youthful curiosity. Approaching my house, I couldn’t stop smiling as the birds performed a final time before landing to welcome me home.
Ordinarily, my many sleepless nights are exercises in boredom relief, but yesterday was different. In the early morning, around 3:00 am, despite overeating the day prior and ignoring an uncomfortable fullness in my gut, I allowed Parkinson’s to leverage my gluttony into an agonizing near-win for the disease. Maybe.
Almost immediately after finishing a bowl of granola, I doubled over in excruciating pain. It felt like my intestines were being twisted and yanked back firmly in a repeated cycle of torment. At the same time, my body’s temperature regulation went haywire, causing me to stagger across the room, sweating profusely and leaving a trail of perspiration.
After thirty minutes of constant pain, I woke Laurie, and we decided to go to the emergency room. Still sweating furiously, I struggled to get my pants on, barely able to stand. And then, just as suddenly as it had come, the pain miraculously disappeared, and I went from sweating like a fevered baby to experiencing a bone-chilling cold in the blink of an eye.
Huddling in a fetal position, Laurie draped me in an electric blanket and turned it high. It took twenty minutes to stop shivering. I thanked Laurie and drifted off, managing half an hour’s wonder of deep, restful sleep.
When I woke up, I felt great, better than I had in weeks, as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Was it a bad experience, or had I just undergone a cleansing catharsis, clearing my body of a long-held negative feeling or energy? I do not know, but the positive after-effect intuitively told me it had been worth the temporary distress. We all walk a precarious trail, bracketing victory and disaster in an unseen display of familiar discrimination, taunted by nature’s exalted indifference, lamenting the lost joy of simply being.
On my walk today, I reflected on the meaning of freedom. Given the proclivity of freedom as political justification in foreign and domestic national decisions, including going to war, the definition of “freedom” seems rarely debated.
It struck me, first and foremost, there must be the freedom to ask the question. Many other peoples are not so fortunate as in the United States where our constitution’s first amendment guarantees freedom of expression.
To be truly free, I would also need the time and the physical capability to communicate. In the afternoon when often unable to speak intelligibly, there is a tendency to talk over me. Does this mean the disabled do not have the same rights as a fully capable person?
Work ethic and productivity are two powerful barometers of societal merit in our materialistic society. Overvaluing them is a frighteningly effective way of transforming large population segments into enslaved robots of a fabricated culture. Accounting for every minute of the day irrevocably shackles a person to be ultimately “in this world,” absent the more spiritually attuned being “of this world.”
The materialistic view of the world does not see the surrounding beauty as the flowers along the path are trampled underfoot. The overvaluation of work ethic and productivity in our society brings us to a stale culture, bereft of imagination, lacking color, and certainly not free.
Culture’s limitations are freedom’s most lavish yoke of oppression. Understanding society’s ultimate impact on our behavior breathes fresh air into a liberated vision of reality, clearing the mind of judgement’s learned clutter, freeing us from the faceless mass.
As Parkinson’s symptoms worsen, I am grateful for all that is going well in my life. I’ve decided to mount a comeback.
Parkinson’s, you no longer get to enjoy a predictable reaction to your craven overtures. After almost 18 years of dealing with this cowardly disease, I can now see that Parkinson’s is terrified of losing its power through the recognition that it is no more than a nuisance.
I intend to have fun. Parkinson’s loses any perceived power it may have wielded when dragged from the darkened corners and exposed to laughter’s light.
It’s been eight years since I managed to complete “Eagle,” a one-footed balance pose requiring extreme focus and strength while balancing on my boat’s cockpit rail. I posted the 2014 video of my success just before the uncertainty of brain surgery. To lead off my comeback, I revisited my boat rail this afternoon.
On my 9th attempt, barely able to balance with both feet, I lifted my left foot and promptly fell in the 48-degree water. Some might view this as a failure. I do not. In fact, my reaction as I saw myself plunging into the chilled depths was to say, “Oh shit” and laugh.
We will all lose capabilities, eventually culminating in our death. That has always been the unspoken finale of life’s contract. But that’s okay. As I write this, two hours after the shock of hitting the cold water, I am energized, eagerly awaiting Parkinson’s next challenge. It’s all good.
Some of this might appear excessive, but that’s the point, we will wage this battle at the edge of control. Parkinson’s, prepare for an ass whooping.
I am truly blessed. My most significant source of happiness emanates from a rekindled joy in wearing the disease openly, subordinating Parkinson’s pain, discomfort, slowness, and fatigue in the warm embrace of fully living life.