Friday Favorites 4/18/2013

gehrigHave you ever heard of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis?  For many years, neither had I, at least directly.  As a childhood New York Yankee fan, though, I knew of Yankee hero Lou Gehrig and his stirring speech when he retired due to illness.  They called it Lou Gehrig’s disease, which I knew was a neurological disorder.   It was only years later when the father of a dear friend was diagnosed with the disorder that I learned its real name, usually abbreviated ALS, and of its devastating progression through our friend’s misfortune.   Then, some years later, a colleague developed the disease.  I had known of Paul for years but only in the last few years of my big industry career did I have an opportunity to work with him.   He was a brilliant, vital, upbeat leader who, in his spare time was a spelunker, exploring caves that had never been charted.   We connected immediately and developed an enormous respect for each other.  Then one day he came to a meeting and announced that he had been diagnosed with ALS and I got to witness his decline first hand.  According to Wikipedia, is a debilitating disease with varied etiology characterized by rapidly progressive weakness, muscle atrophy and fasciculations, muscle spasticity, difficulty speaking (dysarthria), difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), and difficulty breathing (dyspnea)Cognitive function is generally spared for most patients, although some (about 5%) also have frontotemporal dementia.  Put simply, ALS takes away your control of your body while, usually, leaving your cognitive functions intact so you know exactly what’s happening to you.  Paul remained as sharp and charismatic as ever until he could no longer attend our meetings.  It is an awful disease*.   This probably seems a strange way to begin a Friday Favorites … and I guess it is.  But let me explain.

My experience with ALS led me to a book … which introduced me to a character … a real life person … that moved me deeply.  Author Mitch Ablom was a sports journalist when he saw a sociology professor, Morrie Schwarz, he’d studied with 16 years earlier at Brandeis University on Nightline.  Ablom had abandoned his dream of being a musician and although doing well financially, he was working compulsively and frustrated with the course of his life.  Morrie has ALS … a death sentence … yet he is upbeat on Nightline, clearly forming a bond with Ted Koppel by asking him questions like, What is close to your heart?  Ablom went to see his old friend and eventually committed to visiting him every Tuesday evening for 14 weeks, bringing him food and company.  In return, Morrie taught Mitch about life and death, and mostly about mindfulness.   What emerged from this was Mitch Ablom’s first and besttuesdays book, Tuesdays with Morrie**.  The book has eleven chapters based on the conversations on those Tuesdays.  We watch Morrie’s decline through Ablom’s eyes but we also see the way Morrie deals with his fears and sadness … and finds joy, too, drawing in a large circle of friends instead of isolating himself as his body fails.  The dying man ends up inspiring the healthy one.  The book is sad, joyful and moving … and should be required reading for anyone who seeks to be passionately mindful.

Today, I found a battered old journal on my bookshelf, one I had used years ago to record inspiring thoughts.  In it was Morrie’s thoughts on detaching from his fear of death:   What I’m doing now is detaching myself from the experience.  And this is important – not just for someone like me who is dying, but for someone like you, who is perfectly healthy.  Learn to detach.  You know what the Buddhists say? Don’t cling to things because everything is impermanent.  But detachment doesn’t mean you don’t let the experience penetrate you.  On the contrary, you let it penetrate you fully.  That’s how you are able to leave it.  If you hold back on the emotions you can never get to being detached because you’re too busy being afraid. But by throwing yourself into the emotions, you experience them fully and completely.  Only then can you say, “All right,  I have experienced that emotion,  Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.”

Wow.  Friday Favorite.

* You can learn more about ALS and contribute to finding a cure at the ALS Association website, here.

** The book was made into a play and a TV movie (starring Jack Lemmon), both of which I’ve seen.  Both enjoyable but be sure to read the book.

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2 Comments on “Friday Favorites 4/18/2013”

  1. nobusysignal Says:

    I’ll have to pick up this book. Besides, i’m a bit partial to the sociology professor’s first name.

  2. cherperz Says:

    I read Tuesdays With Morrie when it was first released and loved the overriding optimism of it. Everyone should have a mentor/friend like Morrie.


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