“He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.” – Isiah 40
I first met Don by way of a newspaper article. As an officer with The Polio Outreach Of Connecticut, Don had written an article explaining the group’s mission. The article provided Post Polio survivors who were experiencing new symptoms and having an interest in becoming a member with contact information. The group provides support by way of advocacy, up to date treatments, lectures by professionals to address concerning P.P.S. issues, and a social outlet for members to gather together and share their experience and simply a good time.
Although I wasn’t able to attend many functions, as I was still employed, Don and I became friends. Not as one would call a friend who is seen often, sharing opportunities of joy and sorrow. But, rather, a friend in fellowship. As two miners on different shifts walking past one another may give a knowing nod in respect for the outer signs of toil that affirm the character within. Our fellowship was born of those shared likenesses forced upon us by polio. At an annual social gathering we were able to spend time discussing the effects of our ever-changing physical symptoms. As I look back, Don seemed to be searching for some confirmation that what he was experiencing might also be true of me.
About a year from that event the membership was informed that Don had contracted A.L.S., aka Lou Gehrig’s disease. First Polio, now this. Disease possesses an ironic sense of humor in its indiscriminate indifference to the life it pursues to destroy. No heart, no mercy. Just the fulfillment of its purpose in a world that allows it to be. The purpose of a suicidal parasite that takes its own life in taking the life of its host. Don’s cross, which no one would make light of, was weighted further with another malady that tests one’s strength beyond what could be considered fair. During that time of anticipation of what was to come, Don maintained a good and positive sense of it. He expressed no anger. He accepted his fate and made the most of his time.
When he entered the medical center where he would be treated, he formed friendships with the other patients, which seemed second nature to him. He would go from room to room visiting them. And I’m sure adding to their day by taking their minds from the challenges that had brought them there. He would tell me of his days there as we spoke over the phone. As time passed so, too, did the ALS progress. It became more difficult to understand Don as his speech was deteriorating. But, his temperament and attitude was one of gratitude for we who would check in on him. Don, through our group president, eventually asked for no more callers. Not out of some resentment, but because he knew how difficult it must for anyone, knowing that he was passing through such dire straights.
Don was never anything but positive, gracious and thankful for the concern of his friends. I, for one, admired him for his courage in the face of such injustice, if justice or injustice can be imparted upon disease. It takes a strong faith to have such a disposition. A faith that is attributed to that which is beyond any confidence one could have placed in a world that would burden him so. Don would pass from his suffering not long after our last conversation. He exhibited the greatest attribute that anyone could hope to possess. For it sees one through life’s most difficult challenges with honor, dignity and the knowledge that there follows such a thing as a greater good. Too many are unaware that the main purpose in life is to prepare for death. One can only imagine oneself in such a circumstance. Would the sum total of our lives loom before us as frightening specter, or, would it be non-consequential as we await one door to close and the next to open. Don, from all outward appearance was prepared.
Christ on the cross bore our ills and sins. He could have come down if He so chose. For He had the power to do so. But, He persevered through suffering for our sakes. It is human to come down, but divine to hang there. Don persevered in like manner. With the exception that he had it not within himself the power to come down from his cross. Without a choice in the matter he found the courage and strength to hold on until the battle was done. There are moments in life when letting go requires great courage, as well. Those who witnessed Don’s manner through it all may have been left with a question: Could I have done the same?
” Blessed is anyone who endures trials. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” – James 1:12
Don has shown that when it seems that there is no where else to turn, there truly is still but one turn left. Don, if only in his heart, must have turned to the cross. For there was born the most unimaginable suffering. A suffering which after being endured ended not life, but rather overcame the doubts and fears of mankind. I believe those, like Don, who have endured are now wearing the crown of life.
When I think of perseverance I am reminded of Don, who in the face of insurmountable odds, even unto death, has inspired the hearts of those who once, of themselves, thought it impossible to do the same. How Don handled his life odyssey of hurdling relentless obstacles can best be expressed in the following stanza from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “IF”.
“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
“A diamond is merely a lump of coal that did well under the pressure.”