Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Cure for the Winter Doldrums

As I sit in my luxurious wheelchair, I almost feel guilty. The healthy folks around me must endure less elaborate, less comfortable chairs. Theirs don’t transform into an infinite number of positions at the push of a button. Theirs don’t lie flat for sleeping or elevate to reach things. I suppose that’s why they don’t bring their chairs everywhere, like I do. Seems presumptuous of them, however, to assume that there will be a chair wherever they go.
I sit all day, every day, staring at the computer screen in front of me. Sometimes my gaze wanders to the right where I take in the frozen landscape outside my window. Today, I see the same old red hatchback driven by some lady who works in an office nearby. This morning she must have been late because she ran all the way up the street. A working man’s pickup parked behind the hatchback. With its elaborate storage system in the bed of the truck, and all the equipment stockpiled within, he could survive a mild, perhaps even moderate, apocalypse. The frozen ocean lies beyond the vehicles. Seagulls sit on the ice like so many cue balls scattered on a glistening, chrome felt.
My dog, Phoebe, rests on the couch back, a bundle of nervous energy coiled within her as she polices the neighborhood with her eyes. Her preferred instrument, her nose, is rendered ineffective from this perch. When she sees any nonhuman creature, something snaps inside and she growls and becomes agitated. Her response is hardwired, not contrived. Most of the time, however, she is bored, terribly bored. In the winter, there is not much excitement for her or me. We steal naps throughout the day.
Something startles the seagulls. They are no longer billiard balls; they are kites. A hundred white kites rise above the ocean. As their wings and feathers exploit the air currents, they become cogs in a leaderless, yet purposeful flock.  They exit my field of vision, and the flock disintegrates, its mission accomplished. Individual birds funnel back to the ocean in front of my house and start the process all over again.
The lady returns to her hatchback after a long day at… something. She’s not running. She’s not smiling either. I’ve never seen her smile.
As the sun lowers in the sky, the dog and I await the return of my spouse and Phoebe’s pack leader—Kim. When Kim walks through the door, we awaken from our slumber. I engage Kim in conversation. Phoebe walks up to her, tail wagging, eyes wanting. Kim forgets to greet Phoebe sometimes, and I remind her. During these winter months, after a couple minutes Phoebe returns to the couch, I return to the computer, and Kim retires to her office. Unless today is THE day.
Friday will be THE day. We'll leave behind Phoebe, the seagulls, and the running lady. We'll exchange frozen ocean for tropical beaches. Of course, I’ll bring my chair.  Kim refuses to bring one. I hope the cruise ship has enough of them.
Watch this space for vacation updates.

Note to would-be burglars: we have housesitters, and they are bad ass.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


I’ve been thinking about tribalism a lot lately. Seems to be everywhere. Seems to be a big problem.

With sports fans, tribalism is largely harmless. My Patriots played in the Super Bowl this weekend, again, and I very much wanted them to win. However, when they didn’t, I said to myself, “Well, we can’t win them all,” and I went about my business. Of course, it was a different situation for Eagles fans who had just won their first Super Bowl. I am happy for them. I remember the feeling, although I don’t remember flipping over any cars in celebration.

More Harmful Tribalism
Politics come to mind. In his farewell address, George Washington warned against the evils of political parties. I continue to be amazed by the collective wisdom and foresight of our founding fathers.
One of the ugliest manifestations of tribalism is racism. When we consider our tribe superior and the other tribe inferior, that can lead to prejudice, discrimination, and even violence. Not good.

Chronic Disease Tribalism
Tribalism even occurs with patient groups. When I first started working the MS Walk fundraiser, I approached our local Chapter President for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and asked her, “Why do we have our walk so early in the spring? Don’t you think we would have a better turnout if we waited for warmer weather?”
“We tried that one year,” she explained, “but the March of Dimes and the Cancer Society beat us to the punch, and by the time our walk came around nobody felt like walking, collecting pledges, or making pledges for that matter. The early bird gets the worm.”
I once wrote a blog post about how I was jealous of the Parkinson’s community. They have a famous spokesperson who visibly shakes in their commercials — Michael J Fox. We have no celebrities of his stature in the MS community. As a result, they collect more money than we do to cure their disease. Damn them.

Tribalism is written into our DNA. Those early humanoids who were genetically predisposed to cohabitate with other humanoids were more likely to reproduce and perpetuate their family line. But today, tribalism does as much, if not more, harm than it does good. I try to keep that in mind as I interact with people outside my own tribe. I try to overcome my base urge to demonize “others,” and in doing so, become a better person.

Except if the other tribe is the Yankees, who suck.  Go Red Sox!