I was a teenager of the 1980’s so of course I loved Michael J. Fox from his first appearance as Alex P. (was the middle initial P?) Keaton in the hit sitcom, Family Ties. Well real life came along and I became too busy to watch much TV and my admiration for Michael was put on the shelf. Then in the early 1990’s when Michael was diagnosed at a early age with Parkinson’s Disease, my interest was renewed. I felt a lot of compassion for Michael and wondered how he would respond to one of the biggest challenges of his life.
Years later I read his memoir, Lucky Man, and he certainly is one – loving marriage, four beautiful children, a tremendous career, and the status to open our minds about Parkinson’s Disease (PD). I actually didn’t read Lucky Man; I listened to the audiobook. A funny side story is I had quite an existential moment when I got to the part of him discovering he had a “problem.” He describes how he woke one morning and became very concerned about the inability to stop moving his little finger. I stopped and laughed to myself. Being unable to stop my fingers from moving is a pretty regular occurrence for me, so for someone to experience that as worrisome struck me as odd. Then I realize – yet again – the rest of the world does not have CP!
On to why Michael recently made me cry. Last week I listened to an interview with Michael on National Public Radio about his latest book, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future. It was a delightful interview about how the book talks about his youthful mistakes and what he learned from them. As the interview went on, he was eventually asked how he was doing physically. The interview was eight minutes long and Michael spoke haltingly throughout it. Towards the end, he stated he was waiting for some medicine to kick in and that’s why his voice sounded the way it did. As the interview wrapped up, Michael apologized for not sounding more smooth.
My eyes welled up with tears. I thought, “Michael, you should not have to feel like you have to apologized.” This is a man who has accomplished so much, both with and without PD. He has fully live his life with the diagnosis of PD. He has taught people with and without PD how to turn what many would view as a life sentence into a life blessing. He has become a model for embracing all life has to offer and never give up. When his voice halts, when his muscle spasm, and when the medicine does not kick in, there is no need to apologize. Let us embrace these moments with you, Michael, not make you feel like you need to fit your body and its movements into a certain behavior.
This is one of the themes of my book, Firewalk: Embracing Different Abilities - we need to honor all the ways our body is different because of our disability. Whether it is our walk, muscle spasms, speech, etc, we need to embrace it and celebrate it. And most of all, stop apologizing for it! More on this in a future post.