The Ordinary Woman in the Airport

 

My husband and I were hanging around the welcoming area of CVG, watching for our son amid the parade of newly arrived travelers, when I recognized someone I had never seen before. I recognized her deeply, with every thwarted nerve in my MS racked body.

The woman was ordinary enough; middle age, medium build, medium brown hair cut to a medium length. But her gait…wasn’t quite ordinary.

Don’t get me wrong, the woman was moving about as fast as any of the other newly arrived travelers. But it was clear to me that she was expending about ten times as much effort to do so. Her legs clearly had their own agenda; they wanted to dangle. She was forcing every step; her legs dragged and flopped but ultimately kept flopping in the right direction. And because of that, because she could see she was closing in on the greeting place, she had a big smile on her face—not a forced one—a smile of absolute triumph, like a marathoner approaching a spangled banner.

I recognized myself in her smile; I knew the depth of her achievement. I used to walk that walk, or a version of it, every month on my way home from another clinical trial visit to the NIH (National Institutes of Health) where I would receive another dose of the MS medication now marketed as Zinbryta. This drug has kept me walking, albeit with great effort.

Consider this post my small effort to remind you, gentle reader, that NIH is there for you, finding cures to diseases you may be unaware exist…until one day that disease strikes you, or a family member. Funding for the NIH is in danger right now. And if that doesn’t seem a relevant topic to you right now, congratulations. But good health is transient. You have to work to keep it. And sometimes, despite your best efforts, it slips away.

Please do what you can to maintain your health. Do what you can to maintain the NIH.

Keep smiling; ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. Just think of that woman in the airport. Here’s the secret behind her smile: sometimes it takes ten times the effort to keep moving forward, but when the goal is in reach, there is ten times the satisfaction.

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MS Mermaid

My son requested that I tell you the story of what happened the last time we were in Hanauma Bay:

Once upon a time, on an island not so very far from the equator, Mermaid opened her sea blue eyes and saw she was in trouble.

Earlier that morning, Mermaid had grown restless as her husband, Landman, and their son, Halfland, fumbled around the coral in their rented flippers. She shot off after a brilliant green parrotfish, leaving Landman and Halfland to doggie paddle in the shallows of the bay.

Hour after hour, Mermaid frolicked with bright and beautiful fish. She witnessed many wonders. But as time went on, more and more blubbery white Surface Creatures came crashing across the coral reef. As the bay grew crowded with  Surface Creatures, Mermaid grew restless yet again. She missed Landman and Halfland. She wanted to be with them, even if that meant climbing out onto the sand.

Mermaid was as clumsy on the silver sand as Landman and Halfland were clumsy in the water. Mermaid fumbled as far as a little palm tree, and then plopped down to shelter in its meager shade.

Mermaids never nap. But on this day, Mermaid’s frolicks must have worn her out. When Mermaid awoke, she was no longer lying beneath the slender shadow of the little palm tree. The shadow had shifted.

Mermaid was no longer sheltered from the Sun. And Mermaid was no longer alone.

A group of  Shade Seekers from the Far East were noisily unfolding their straw mats along the new angle of the palm tree’s slender shadow, chatting away as if Mermaid did not exist.

Mermaid did not understand the Shade Seekers’ culture, or the Shade Seekers’ language, but she had to be grateful for their bizzare proximity, and their incomprehensible chatter. Had they not been so close, had they had not been so loud, the Shade Seekers might have not have waked her. Had Mermaid remained asleep beneath the Sun, she may have napped her way smack into oblivion.

You see, all mermaids’ powers melt away in the heat.

Mermaid looked down at her lovely legs. She knew the heat of the Sun had rendered them as useless as a mannikin’s legs.

Mermaid gazed longingly at the sparkling sea; if she could only make it back, she would be safe from the heat of the Sun.

Mermaid turned to the Shade Seekers. The Shade Seekers did not meet her sea blue eyes. You see, Shade Seekers do not believe in mermaids. These simply pretended Mermaid did not exist. And even if Mermaid were to somehow convince the Shade Seekers that she did indeed exist, she still had no common language to explain her predicament.

All the while, the Sun beat down relentlessly. If Mermaid didn’t act soon, she’d lose control of more than just her legs; her sea blue eyes would cease to see.

Mermaid was feeling desperate. Her lovely legs couldn’t take her to the water. The Shade Seekers wouldn’t take her. Mermaid decided on a course of action. Since she could not walk to the water, she would have to roll there.

I will tell you a secret about mermaids. Mermaids are like you and me. They can not abide to lose their dignity.

Mermaid imagined that the Shade Seekers would start seeing mermaids as soon as they saw one rolling in the sand. That would give those Shade Seekers something to talk about.

Just then, Mermaid heard two beloved voices over the din of the Shade Seekers’ chatter.

“Mermaid!”

“Mommy!”

Landman and Halfland were running up the beach toward their lost Mermaid. They were so happy to see Mermaid, they forgot to be cross with her for swimming away. They understood immediately that Mermaid wouldn’t be going anywhere, not without their help.

Now, this was no ordinary bay, but rather, the crater of an eroded volcano, one that had sunk so low that the sea could sneak inside. Landman proposed he carry Mermaid to shelter on the crater’s rim.

The crater’s rim was a long way up. Mermaid wanted nothing more than to return to the water, and to her natural form.

Landman loved Mermaid. Landman wanted nothing more than for Mermaid to be whole again. Instead of carrying Mermaid to the crater’s rim, he carried her back into the water, and released her alongside the battered coral reef.

As the family expected, the ocean worked its magic on Mermaid. She was soon swimming as though she had never been pinned by the heat of the Sun. Landman and Halfland were happy to see their Mermaid restored, yet the entrance to the path to crater rim remained a great distance away. Mermaid refused to be carried there, and they all three doubted she could walk.

Halfland proposed they all swim toward the entrance. But Mermaid knew swimming would not be much fun for the boy. She urged Halfland and Landman to walk there, instead.

After all that had happened, Halfland and Landman were reluctant to leave Mermaid. But Mermaid had learned her lesson. From now on, Mermaid would not be distracted, no matter how colorful the fish. She would keep her sea blue eyes on Landman and Halfman, for those two were more precious to her than all the fish in the sea.

Landman and Halfland sloshed back to the shore, and Mermaid swam along in the sea. But they were still together, all three. They proceeded in parallel toward the path to the crater rim; Landman and Halfland walking on the beach, and Mermaid swimming in the bay. Mermaid’s gaze did indeed remain fixed upon Landman and Halfland. Those two were the most soothing sight her sea blue eyes could ever see.

Not even the Shade Seekers can tell you how Landman and Halfland managed to get their Mermaid to shelter on the crater’s rim, or how Landman, Mermaid, and Halfland have managed to stay together, happily ever after. There is much about a mermaid that must remain a mystery.

Commuter Drag

IMG_4232I am commuting today to the NIH for my monthly dose of MS medication. Look around the airport. You won’t pick me out. I am streamlined, like every serious commuter. I know which security line is actually the shorter one. I know the latest TSA regulations. I don’t flinch at the full body scanner. My boots are easily unzipped.
My red Chrome messenger bag is a red herring. I haven’t straddled a bicycle in over a year. Not since I kept falling off. But I can look like I still ride a bike. I can pass, at least for the outgoing flight.
I am not the one fumbling with her shoelaces, or the one in the wheelchair. I am not the one in that golfcart-like vehicle. I am not the one boarding the tram.
I am the one strutting to the gate.
I am not the one on the people mover. I am not the one on the elevator.
Whenever possible, I am not the one on the escalator. Whenever possible, I am the one on the stairs.
I am not the one sitting in the handicapped row.
I am not the one being offered the opportunity to pre-board.
I am the one who doesn’t look up as boarding is announced, who continues writing her notes by hand. No one needs to know I am a creature with brain shrinkage. That I’ve left my computer behind in too many taxis, too many times.
No one needs to know that on the way back, I may just be the one in the wheelchair, or the one in the golf-cart like vehicle. I may just give in and take the tram. I might take the elevator. I might accept an offer to preboard.
I am one of you. Until I’m not. Then I am of one them.
I am one of all of us. We each carry baggage. We each carry pain. Sometimes it’s visible. Sometimes it’s not.