“So, is it ok if I’m straight with you, Howard?” asked the naturopathic doctor.
“Well, I’m not really sure what the alternative is.”
“Listen, I’ll be blunt. I’ve worked with three ALS patients in the past, they’ve all sadly passed, but of the three, two of them quickly succumbed to hopelessness and despair and their disease progressed rapidly. The third, however, was determined to fight, he spent the majority of his time researching potential alternative treatments and clinical trials, he traveled to a clinic in Thailand and had a stem cell treatment, he developed his own protocol of supplements that he read about, he was driven to stay positive, and he lived two years longer than the other two.”
Oh fuck, I thought to myself.
I’ve never been in a fight in my entire life, though I was near one once.
I was in college, my roommates and I, friends since grade school, were hosting a keg party in a house we were renting, some assholes, linebacker/Goliath-sized assholes, crashed the party, they started picking a fight with one of our guests, and, well, I didn’t flee, but I didn’t fight either. Rather, I froze, right where I stood, about 10 feet from where it was all going down, totally incapable of intervening.
I felt tremendous anger towards the aggressors. They were bullies, picking on a friend of ours who was chubby, to put it charitably, and it hurt to see him treated like that. But, I had no useful skills to speak of, I couldn’t negotiate my way out of an argument over which album was greater, Pink Floyd’s Darkside of the Moon or The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, much less de-escalate a drunken, volatile conflict. I was quite strong, not body builder muscular, but muscular, and at six feet tall, with broad shoulders, some guys might have thought twice about messing with me…only, I never took a martial arts class, could never keep a punching bag going like a boxer, I hated when we did wrestling in P.E. class in junior high school, not just because the outfits were embarrassing, not just because I didn’t want to get that physically close to my male peers, especially sweaty and farty male peers, but mostly because I just didn’t give a shit whether I won or lost.
Now, luckily that night in college at the party, the day was saved by Michael Kramer, my roommate, friend, eventual Best Man at my wedding, who bravely came racing out of the house swinging a baseball bat, smacked the lead goon in the head, and chased the party crashers away.
And so, when it appeared that my life truly did depend on me fighting something, setting aside for a moment the fact that the best medical scientists in the world have been working on a cure for ALS since the disease was discovered in 1869, and have failed, I struggled initially to muster motivation.
That is, until it was reframed for me as a matter of fending off the enemy long enough to be around should a breakthrough treatment receive Food & Drug Administration approval and thereby become widely available to ALS patients. And this, coming from my life partner, rather than from some doctor or an article on the internet, is what snapped me out of my victimhood and reminded me of what was right in front of my face and unquestionably worth fighting for: