I have several things on my mind tonight, but more than anything I am haunted by a phone call I got last night from my brother Nathan- who, as many of you know, suffers from a type of epilepsy which causes him to experience frequent “winking out” seizures. (He’s lived with this for over fifteen years.) I have seen his seizures with my own eyes on a number of occasions; the seizure itself typically lasts for a few moments but the aftereffects (disorientation and extreme fatigue) often take a few minutes to subside.
For some reason, I am especially saddened when I experience Nathan’s seizures not in person, as it were, but rather over the phone. We will be engaged in a perfectly normal conversation, doing just fine – and suddenly Nathan will go silent. . . and after a few moments it becomes fully evident that he has suffered another seizure, which effectively ends our conversation altogether. (It usually takes a little while for him to regain the ability to converse, and most of the time I end up having to hang up.) This is when Nathan’s epilepsy seems so much like a sadistic bandit, stealing away little moments from his life. I don’t know – and don’t want to know – what it would feel like to live with that sort of unwanted predator in one’s life – it seems so unfair – but it certainly makes me newly grateful for the relative normalcy of my life. . . and especially that I get to live my life without such incessant and unwelcome interruptions. And it makes me hope all the more that someday this will not be part a part of my brother’s life. In the meantime, I’m glad at least that he has a circle of friends in Madison who also live with this and who find ways to help each other bear this frustrating burden.
One of my favorite Biblical passages comes from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, where the apostle mentions at one point how often he would pray to God for the removal of some sort of physical malady which he referred to rather vaguely as “the thorn.” We don’t know exactly what this was, but whatever it was, God did not take the problem away. And St. Paul came to realize over time that God allowed his “thorn” to remain because through it he had learned humility and developed a much more profound sense of dependence on God. If we are human, then we are subject to all kinds of “thorns” – some much more serious than others – but they all remind us that we are imperfect beings and relatively fragile. And certainly I have learned so much through the example of people in my life like Walter (with MS) or my late friend Playford (with ALS) who have borne their burdens so graciously and patiently and learned so much from them. I don’t know what thorns may be in my future, but I hope when they come (and I know they will come) that I will demonstrate at least a faint echo of the courage I have seen in Walter and Playford and Sue and in my brother. . . each of whom had their life’s script radically rewritten in unexpected ways, but who found a way to embrace whatever came next. I can’t think of anything I admire more than that kind of courage.