In 1998, I was blessed to attend a global Christian conference targeted at reaching Christian students in colleges and other tertiary schools with the primary aim of showing us the need for evangelism (if memory serves me right). It was such a unique event with over 38,000 students representing schools from all parts of West Africa gathering in one location. One of the unique experiences was having to interact with other college students, learn the realities that were peculiar to each region and ascertain what the tastes and cultural values of the different ethnic groups were. Above all, it was such an overwhelming experience to realise that regardless of how fluent the spoken English was or not, there was a common denominator; we were all Christians in tertiary universities united by each person’s unwavering commitment and allegiance to a loving Sovereign God – striving to live a lifestyle as exemplified by Jesus while He walked the earth. Speakers from all over the world graced the pulpit, and when we broke up into smaller groups for further deliberations, it became more profound because then more of us identified our purpose and received the needed empowering beginning with knowledge. It was actually both a spiritual experience and another opportunity to acquire knowledge.
One of the lessons I took away with me was not just the opportunity to meet new people but the fact that there would come situations where you just had to stand all by yourself. And it was not just standing by yourself, it was standing with an unflinching belief in what you believed in. Knowing that come hell or high water, you had better be truly convinced in what your beliefs were or the inevitable result was to be smashed against the rocks of uncertainty, doubt and regret. As the years passed by, more than one of these situations arose and as the pressures (unique to such situations) piled on, whatever you had painstakingly stored within yourself was forced to the fore. I learned that when push comes to shove you had better have something inside of you or you would go sick with dry retching as you painfully threw up nothing because……….there was nothing inside of you. And so it was not just a new lesson, I had already been taught that by my father, it was the chance to apply those basic tenets and whether I was all by myself or not; reveal without a hint of pretention, the real me.
One of the signature cuffs that myoclonus keeps on forcing on me is the inability to really speak for extended periods of time because as I speak, the words are all there but the increasingly dryness of my mouth gradually deteriorates into the seemingly incoherent mumbling of one totally inebriated. And as days come and go, I have forged new methods of circumventing this experience. In addition to always lugging around a bottle of water at all times, I have started carrying around mints, candies, anything that combats the dryness (I have never been a sweet tooth) and so initially while it seemed childish, in comparison to the increasing puzzlement on the face across me when I am talking, there was really nothing to it. I had to choose between the ruffling of mints in my pouch/pocket or the deterioration of my speech which usually begins with my mouth drying up till I am barely able to string a complete sentence together.
In the last three weeks, I have become friends with so many remarkable people; ranging from those who are still grappling with the recently received diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease (PD) or Dystonia to those who have courageously stepped out from the walls that they have built several years ago in a bid to focus their all into the daily battle of living with PD or dystonia. I am, still again, reminded of the resilience of the human spirit that refuses to be broken when you acknowledge that your spirit’s resilience can only be activated by choice. Choosing is easy when you are faced with just two options; when you understand the significance of each option. When you realise that the strength and resilience of our spirits is not something that is passed from parent to child, it is something that comes with acknowledging that we’re truly nothing when we are unplugged from our source. For it is our Creator, the Sovereign God that strengthens us when we embrace the fragility of our weakness and our vulnerability as humans.
One of the beautiful things about science is that it does not explain everything and as long as you continue to butt your head with that, wrongly believing that science has all the answers then the beat down is just going to become more frequent. Greatness is both born and made, and I dare say that greatness made is of more value to you than when it is handed down to you on a jewelled platter. Struggling to your feet after a beat down requires all your energies and hurling all kinds of expletives at dystonia would just be an exercise in futility, it does not care about you feel. However, most times, it is not the yell that has more weight or achieves more but the barely heard words spoken on the inside (encouraging yourself to get up) because your mouth is so dried up that salivating suddenly seems like a mirage in the desert. We may all look alike in some way but what truly differentiates us is the response or reaction after a beat down. An experience is not the event, it is the way we respond or react to the event – good and bad experiences are just tags, what we take away from the event is what tags it as a good or bad experience.
Now it has almost come full circle because life has been more than just a quiet and calm sea, definitely not, instead I have been besieged on all sides by what I would never have chosen in my wildest dreams even if it was the only option left. Living with myoclonus has been one of the roughest phases I have beeen through but what makes it so different, apart from it being rare and ‘incurable’, is the unpredictability of its expression and its triggers. And yes, individuals may infer that they are there for you but when dystonia is giving me such a beat down, I can but appreciate the candour of this truth – few will be there to help me to my feet based on the compassion that makes us human beings combined with the fact that everyone has issues. However, it is almost sheer folly wanting more from them during the beat down, there is just one subject of the beat down and that subject is me. There will always be help, probably around the corner, but I have learned that harbouring resentment only makes the entire experience worse and elevates the hurt from just being physical to more of a searing hurt on my insides.
Learning to appreciate the little everyday victories in our yet unending fight with these nasty diseases/disorders is something that must be sought for, nurtured and applied each day. Whether we choose to wait for the drumroll or not, a victory is a victory and the magnitude of the victory is just another human parameter, just as flawed as everything else we make. Words will always count for something; fragrance or noxious, soothing or destructive, the nature is our choice to make but there will come times when those words can barely be uttered and our actions in the silence of those times will inadvertently determine whether we believe that we are created for a purpose or we are just existing for ourselves. Today, help will come, and most often from the least probable source but till the help comes, let us never for a moment entertain the doubts that we are worthless because we are unable to convey how we feel to the person standing next to you. And even when we are sorely reminded by their presence by their elbows digging into you, intentionally or not, let us not base all our hope on things that are fleeting in nature.
May our words be true not superfluous or ensconced in falsehood, and when we can barely utter words, let us remember that our actions tell a tale of a life living with purpose or not. I strive instead to show that I can be a beacon of hope, bearer of light and a vessel of right living and that despite what the circumstances say today, I refuse to be defined by them because I know better days await ahead.
עד שנפגשנו שוב, אולי התענוגות שלו להיות העונג שלך לעשות