I've been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
You know, I don't much like seeing those words in type. But that's my status. I have a progressive, degenerative disease, one that's incurable. Parkinson's will share my body and shape my life for the rest of my days. But it won't become my life. Not if I can help it.
-- from A Sharp Turn in the Road in "Wobbling Home"
Life has its ups and downs, twists and turns, which we strive daily to navigate for a journey through our days that will proceed steadily, both mentally and physically. But when steadiness itself is compromised it may lead to questioning all of life's values. About a million Americans suffer from Parkinson's disease, a presently incurable neurological disorder that affects coordination, balance and sometimes personal mood and outlook. In its later stages it may have connections to dimentia. The malady is insidious in that it may develop for years before the first symptoms appear. It is debilitating and, for some people, so embarassing that they won't talk about it.
Jim Atwell has had to face up to Parkinson's since his diagnosis in 2007. Mr. Atwell is a native of Maryland, a former college professor and administrator. He was raised as a Catholic and was a teaching monk, but forty years ago became a Quaker. Since 1989 he has lived in an 18th century farmhouse in the hamlet of Fly Creek, NY, near Cooperstown. Jim writes a regular column for the community's weekly newspaper,the Cooperstown Crier. His award-winning articles on country life and personal experience were collected in 2005 in the book "From Fly Creek: Celebrating Life in Leatherstocking Country". Shortly after that he learned that he had Parkinson's.
The columns continued lyrically with essays about raising sheep, happenings around the Fly Creek General Store and hilarious adventures at filling stations, but regularly readers would also be learning about the progress of a disease that was a physical, psychological and spiritual struggle.
Once I told a Quaker friend that I regretted the time when I'd be beyond any kind of giving. His answer: "Jim, that's when yours becomes a ministry of receiving." He said that there can't be loving givers without receivers, whether the latter are conscious or unaware. Both givers and receivers are needed in the great economy of growth toward God.
And so, a new role lies ahead for me -- and, of course, eventually for you. It's a humbling one but still a part of that great, divine economy. Humbly accepted, it can raise us above our deadening egoism. And, even if we're reduced to an oyster's awareness or beyond, we're still useful receivers of others' loving service, still helping to raise them toward God.
I like that thought. To that I say, Amen!
--from Back Among the Unaware in "Wobbling Home"
Jim Atwell and his wife Anne Geddes-Atwell join Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to tell how they have coped with a life-altering condition, as well as chatting about the latest from Fly Creek. To join in the conversation call during the live 1:00 PM broadcast to 888/359-9754 or post a comment here to OffThePage@WSKG.ORG.