17 November 2010

Thanksgiving thoughts: independence

Gene at Devils Tower, Wyoming

Along with several other people I know, I am taking some time in this week or so leading up to Thanksgiving to consider our gifts and graces. This year, I need to stop and reflect on what truly makes our lives meaningful and whole. It's not about the trimmings and trappings and other superficial embellishments; this year, it's about the things that truly define us.

Today's celebration is about independence, at a personal level. I am grateful for everything that keeps us all healthy and independent to the greatest degree possible. This is not an abstract concept in our home. We live with the daily awareness that independence is a treasure.

Gene birding in South Dakota

Gene and I don't dwell a lot on the MS that has limited his mobility. This is mainly due to his determination not to be limited any more than necessary. His own stubborn character provides the drive; several devices and medications facilitate it. Even a generation ago, he might have been forced to stay at home, to curtail his biological research and field work, and to have assistance in his activities at an early age.

There he goes....

MS is one of the auto-immune disorders about which so very little is really known. Gene does not dwell on why or how this has happened, and has remarkably little self-pity. Instead, one power chair and one modified van later, he is on the go, trekking as far off-road as he possibly can. He is a dedicated birder and takes the van and the chair everywhere he can possibly reach. He is tireless in zipping around town.

When we had to have the power chair repaired last year, the wheelchair store employees stared at Gene in shock as they removed great hunks of grass, brush and rocks from the undercarriage. I've seen lawnmower bags with less debris. The wheelchair guys are used to pristine chairs that stay on the pavement, not cross-country wonders that come in with half the prairie in the treads. Here's the interesting thing, though: they were beaming. Ecstatic. Incredibly happy that he was able to be so independent and active, delighted that the chair is more likely to be worn out than to rust out.

The investment in independence

As I count up our blessings this year, not just for us, but for all our friends and family, I'm placing personal independence high on the list. Our society has found, and is finding, so many ways to keep people healthy, active and independent, more than ever before. And independence is one of those quiet treasures that we often don't cherish enough until it is threatened or gone. It doesn't mean that we don't ask for or give help (we do); it means that we have a wide range of options and choices available to us. Options that an MS patient in the past might never have had.

Independence in our daily lives makes it possible for us to construct the networks we need and want without feeling trapped or isolated. I am thankful that we live in a time when people with needs are not shunted aside or stiflingly isolated as an automatic response. We have found that people are overwhelmingly likely to help when help is needed--the tricky part is being able to ask for it, and to accept it as generously as we give it. Maybe, at the end of the day, it's all about interdependence after all.

We don't know what the future holds, but, then, we never do. It's a good year for us this year on the independence front, and we'll take it. Giving help and asking for it are equally important. Remember that we all need to do both.

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