I get a lot of magazines in the mail. One of them is called "More" and is written for a target audience of women who are over 40. This particular magazine likes to highlight the achievements and success stories of those of us who are in our prime years. Of course I will remain 25 forever (in my mind that is!). Actually I will turn 44 this very month and there is no way for me to deny that I am solidly within this "mature" demographic. Seeking inspiration, I opened my February 2007 issue of More (I am a little behind in reading my stack of magazines) to find a short article on the last page entitled "Firsts After 40." I was very intrigued to find that the story was about a lady who had Multiple Sclerosis.
The article highlighted Wendy Booker (52 years old), MS patient, and mountain climber extraordinaire. The photo showed Wendy happily looking upward as she climbed up the steep face of a mountain. And I have to tell you quite honestly that my first reaction was to cringe. It looked like one of the photos they put on the packaging for the MS meds such as the handy dandy cardboard carrier they gave me for Rebif. Lots of smiling fit people posing on rocks and modeling how to embrace life.
I have to deal with having this debilitating disease day to day. Must I climb mountains too?
Reluctantly I scanned the article.
When Wendy was diagnosed at age 44 she was a busy mom with three kids. Her doctors told her to take it easy but she didn't listen. She immediately ran a marathon and then joined the inspirational lecture circuit. She then got the idea to climb mountains including McKinley, Kilimanjaro, and Mount Elbrus. Her next adventure? To attempt Mount Everest.
My response: "You go do that honey." I am sticking to solid ground myself.
After reading this so-called inspirational piece, I wondered to myself why I was feeling the exact opposite.
I suppose what this short article was lacking was any sort of emotional honesty. I really don't care that someone climbs mountains. I care about the thoughts leading to action. I want to know about the fear behind the smile. I want to hear about the days when you wonder if you can get out of bed. I want to hear about the emotional pang you feel when you have to tell the kids or family that you have this disease. I want to feel your gratitude that you are still able to walk. I want to hear about the joy of living an ordinary day.
I want to feel what is inside someone's core, that magical something, that keeps one going despite the odds.
Telling me you climb mountains doesn't grant me any of the essential information I need for authentic inspiration. In order to feel inspired, I need to be able to relate to you as a person complete with strengths as well as human weaknesses.
When you are told that you have a lifelong disease such as MS there can be this immediate instinct to prove something. "I am not going to let MS change me!" you might declare. Others might proclaim, "I will beat this disease!" Right before I was diagnosed with MS I imagined the two scenarios which could come to pass. I thought that if I was told that I did not have MS that I would go run a marathon. And then I thought that if I did get news that I had MS I would also run a marathon. I giggled to myself at these thoughts. I have never run in my life. I don't particularly enjoy running. Why on earth would I think to begin now? What would I be proving? Do I really need to plant a flag and declare myself the winner over my disease? I too, however briefly, had bought into the notion that I must prove my worth through physical demonstrations of how I can "overcome" my disease.
There are a lot of heroes in this world and they need not always climb mountains or vanquish diseases. The true heroes in my mind are those who are surviving the day to day with Multiple Sclerosis. My heroes are the ones who can show their vulnerability and say with piercing honesty that living with this disease can be very difficult. The real heroes are the folk who are not high above us but the ones who walk with us.
I like mountains. They are wonderful to look at. And if I loved climbing them I would do so with a passion. But just because you or I have MS doesn't mean we have to take up rock climbing or bungee jumping in order to prove our worth. Everyone has their mountain to climb in a symbolic sense. We all have our challenges to face. But being quiet with our feet on the ground doesn't make our quest any less profound.
Published On: December 17, 2008