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Friday, August 25, 2017

On Turning 46 - Happy Birthday to Me (August 26, 2017)!

            When we’re kids, we tend to look forward to birthdays, especially the milestone ones. We get a clown party or a bouncy house. We get the right to invite friends on a cool outing where we get lots of presents and a memorable time. We get to feel older and special when we get the double-digit birthday (10) and the teenage birthday as well as the old enough to drive birthday (16) and the legally an adult birthday (18). Then again, it’s more about being able to legally consume alcohol (21) for most people regarding milestone birthdays, though old enough for school (5 or 6 depending on the month of birth) is an exciting birthday, too.
            For little guys and gals like my nephew Dylan or my niece Lydia, they get to hold another finger up for how old they are. I may not have enough fingers or toes to do that anymore, but I see where it’s special for them.

            We get to blow out candles and make a wish, or if we want, we can hire a kid like Dylan to do it for us. Thus, even if it’s not theirs to celebrate, it can still be theirs in part.

            After we turn 21, birthdays are still relatively exciting celebrations for a while and then they turn into subdued gatherings. Either way, it’s a chance to go out and be the king or queen of all things. I thought 30 was a good age to reach since it represented a mark where I accumulated a fair bit of wisdom to be who I was going to be. I had successes and failure. I had experienced love, lived in another country, joined the military, mourned over death, graduated college, obtained a full-time job with my degree, and screwed up enough to learn how to come back from it and stand on my feet. I had seen happy days and not so happy days. I wasn’t an expert, and I didn’t have everything figured out, but I was getting there.
            Ten years later, 39-41 pretty much sucked with that whole middle-age crisis thing going on. The Jackie Robinson birthday (42) saw me getting it back together again, and the last 2 birthdays, the Reggie Jackson birthday (44) and the Pedro Martinez birthday (45) have been pretty good, which brings us to the Lee Smith birthday (46) on August 26th. He was a relief pitcher for many years, who did pretty well at an over-rated position. As a result, he was considered for the Hall of Fame, but never quite made it.

            This year, I watched my dad not celebrate his 70th birthday. I get it. Who wants to think about that kind of a milestone (especially seeing as he was having issues with arthritis in his lower spine)? I’m sure 71 will be better now that he’s had a chance to digest septuagenarian status in the same way he enjoyed turning 60.
            Not wanting to be President of the United States, 35 didn’t matter much to me, but other than being able to apply for AARP or to retire, there’s really no other age restricted things left after 21, so we go on and just hope for a weekend birthday rather than to have to celebrate on a workday (i.e. get the rescheduled birthday celebration card). This year, I get a weekend birthday. I feel a lot of pressure to make it a good day, but I think I can make that happen. Oh yes, I can.
            As for my special day and me, I share a birthday with 3 people who I’ve met. I also share a birthday with Mother Teresa, Melissa McCarthy, McCauley Caulkin, James Hardin, Chris Pine, and Branford Marsalis, who really wailed when he played “Eyes of the World” with the Grateful Dead (I’m just saying).

            Approaching this day, I always think about who I am. I think about what the birthday sounds like. This year, I would say it sounds like Jason Isbell, Fleet Foxes, the National, the Front Bottoms, and Modern Baseball.

            I also think about what it reads like (the Kevin Hart autobiography). In it, he's really funny, but it's a great feel good self help book, too (if you don't mind his F bombs and love life in there). He has lots of lessons on success and perseverance and being raised by a single mother who kept him on the right path. At one part, he says:

            "In most action movies, one person rises out of a humble beginning to discover that they have been chosen by destiny to save the world. But that's not how it works in real life. You rise out of your humble beginning to become part of a community, and it is only together and as equals that will save the world."

             I like that... a lot.

             You can find more advice from him HERE. This is great.
            As for what my birthday looks like, well I'm binging on Breaking Bad. I'm in the final season, and it's really getting good now.

            So the question for me becomes, "How did I get here" to age 46?

            I think about where I want to be in the coming year, and I think about how I want to be with my wife Heather, happy and productive with no real extension of my symptoms to a place where I have to acclimate myself to a life with additional things I can’t do just yet. I want to spend time with family, travel to neat places, hike at challenging locations, write my novels, experience special moments, teach people how to write well, and enjoy life. I want to keep being me. After all, I’m that person first.
            Turning 46 leaves me with mixed feelings as this is a time to reflect on who I have become in life. While my symptoms have existed since at least 2011, this is my first official birthday with Parkinson’s. As a result, my feelings toward several world issues have changed dramatically. Here, I can see my life philosophy and ideology changing. For that matter, I can see a lot of the world’s ideology changing as well. That’s good and bad.
I’m not going to turn this part into a full-blown venting (besides, I already did that a month or so ago here), but I will say that my concern for healthcare, something I am fortunate to have, now reflects my commitment to this new life’s lesson that Parkinson’s (and my time with Lyme and spondylosis, and situations I've seen with those around me) has taught me. The fact that people need this valuable system for all of their conditions, both the previous ones and the ones that are quietly waiting to blow up like mine did when I hit the magic number of dopamine producing cells damaged, is something I currently speak out and advocate for. This is not something that cannot be left to chance. As a result, I can and do advocate for awareness, preparedness, and defense of what we have. This should be one size fits all, instead of left for legislators to decide. Young people, remember, don’t cheap out on your insurance, no matter what it costs or what you think you need or don’t. Medical care is a good thing. Here’s to the brilliant, compassionate people who provide it for us.
I also think that society needs a system in place where people are protected from impact should things blow up medically, financially, or emotionally, as they have for many of my fellow Parkinson’s warriors (as well as other conditions and situations, too). Remember, it’s not just me (or you or your family member or friend) that Parkinson’s (or some other condition or situation) is going 12 rounds with. This affects my wife and my extended family as well as friends who see me go through this (as well as your extended network). When the poop hits the fan, it’s important to have life insurance and protection against disability. I know that sounds like focusing on death / dismemberment / disease, but it is. Insurance and government programs should help protect people in the same way that borders and the military protect people’s safety. Even if you’re young, if you get offered coverage, don’t turn it down. Insurance is for what if. When you need it and don’t have it, it’s too late. This isn’t something to leave to crossing fingers.
Also, I have always felt people need natural places to play. Now, I contemplate how spiritually, physically, and emotionally recharging they really are as I enjoy all of my time between the trees (as I will when I go waterfalling in the Poconos tomorrow). I don’t always get it, and there are times where my Parkinson’s exhaustion overtakes my ability to get there, but when I do, I feel good (as James Brown would sing). Whether to remove the rust from my knees, to enjoy time with others, or to see natural beauty, the outdoors has something for everyone (as my friend Neil writes in his blog), so we need to care for the world and to preserve its beauty. In a time where 3-4 natural monuments will in some way be affected by legislation (not as bad as it could have been, but that being said, a little cancer is still cancer), we really need to rethink short-term solutions. Society as a whole needs to start focusing on longer term plans instead of taking out anything that could be deemed progressive, tree-hugging, liberal, or some similar term. There are solutions out there. People just need to be motivated to see their value.

As someone with Parkinson’s, I don’t want to feel like a throwaway person, and I don’t like living in a throwaway world where cost-cutting, prejudice, and outright disrespect replace value. I don’t like thinking about lying, exaggerating, hypocritical, and aggressive leaders (some more than others on both sides who are equally to blame) leading to issues all over the world. Charlottesville and the response to it really dragged me down. Leadership is about providing comfort, not fuel for the fires of personal tirades. Additionally, trading First Amendment freedom for the right for racist threats to exist just confuses me (as does supporting failed or adversarial causes). It’s one thing not to know what you’re doing is wrong, but to be told that it’s wrong and to keep doing it just shows an immaturity that is counter to all we as a people are. Fighting violence with violence isn’t the answer. At some point, people need to unclench their fists and not go looking for a fight, no matter what the reason (and the doxing, tear gassing, urine+feces throwing, and retaliations of ANTIFA don’t excuse the “nobility” of their cause of fighting against evil). This is called maturity, and as we get older, we’re supposed to get more of this.
I don’t want to write long-winded diatribes that focus on the negativity, but I don’t want to bury my head in the sand and not stand up for the right things. In a world where we are getting to relive the Cuban Missile Crisis with North Korea while having a pissing contest with Venezuela shows an instability that stands counter to all we can be as a people. I don’t want things to be us / them / the people lost in sports and entertainment who have no clue what’s going on or could be happening (though I'm into both). I’m in the prosperity and happiness game, and right now, there seem to be a lot of things acting on the happiness of everyone..
            Sitting here now, I counter all of this by saying something positive: I believe that love is a good thing. Love and respect are the only absolute truths there is (not liberal / conservative / moderate / whatever ideology). I believe that we can and will get through much of what is going on because there are people willing to work for it (like I tell my wife when things come up in our lives: it’s what we do), but I worry what will happen to all that is around me in the meantime.
I see so much sadness and conflict in what exists around the world (part of the reason for my 4 day hiatus from Facebook – the other one is working on my novel). Throughout my day to day life, I see so many people whose lives have suffered due to their choices and circumstances while playing out the moments in my daily existence. I see so many people who need a hug or a like or someone to believe in them. I see so many batters with 2 strikes in their count and a hurler with a 102-mph fastball and pinpoint accuracy on the mound. It would be nice to rescue them from uncertainty, loneliness, or doom and show them how education could help them from being left behind, but they need more help and connection than I can give them (and besides, I still have a lot of personal work I need to do on my life). It would be nice to have the resources and opportunity to give them all hope, but sadly, I know that will never be there for most people, though I will do my best to be there in my immediate circumstances.
That being said, as my honor’s student Ashley said at her presentation when questioned about her plan to educate women in the developing world, “I’d like to try.”
            So at 46, I feel optimistic about people working together, but I feel burdened by the divisions in the world. I feel optimistic about the love I have from my wife, but I worry about our future that is coming down the pike, ready to strike the earth like some lost meteorite that hit my brain or gut who knows when. I am buoyed by a brilliant research mind that our scientific community has, which can possibly create a cure or ability to freeze Parkinson’s, but I am confused and bewildered by the enormity of unsubstantiated “Facebook studies” posted in front of me.
As I sit here with my tremors creeping back and forward from the recesses, I’d like to think that progress will come quickly. It may not help me, but it could help the next generation. I’d like to think that things like the Amantadine rash (livedo reticularis) can be made to go away so I don’t have to put up with weird looking legs and the tiger stripes I have when my calves get too cold. After all, I’ve got some nice calves (please note - these are not my legs, but the picture does show how the condition can intensify)!

Most of all, I’d like to think about all of the people who have been there for me, either in real life or digital life (and that’s you reading my blog(s)). It’s been a wild and weird and wonderful 46 years. Here’s 46 more!!

Happy birthday to me (by Cracker)!

Or enjoy these 2 NSFW birthday songs by 50 Cent and 2 Chainz with Kanye West. It's good to have students half my age to impact me with their musical tastes.

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