a long time ago i met a man. he is the smartest man i may have ever met, not only educated but empathetic and loving. he is a genuine grade a guy! his name is sam! he is a 75 year old man, who was a teacher, a farmer, and an oral story teller-he is a sage, and he has parkinsons.
i first met sam when i attended the local unitarian universalist church several years ago with my exhusband ted. we were homeschooling the kids and i felt that it was necessary for them to have not only routine but we were in dire straights looking for friends they could hang out w. most of the local homeschooling groups are based solely on christianity’s doctrine, and while i can get down w reading about jesus, we are anything but christian. the uu church seemed like a great place to start. ted and i were dirt poor, and we really did not belong in the seats despite our philosophies and lack of theologies. sam was one of the only ppl who went out of his way to be nice to us, the other person was patsy nixon who is like a super cool funnier and hipper betty white. sam would smile at us, and greet us every sunday, but we had a bit of a bad experience and stopped going to the church.
when amy and i moved back to lawton, we were desperate for community. going from a place where we had to schedule time to ourselves into a cultural abyss is a bit of a shock to the system and we needed a place to be. seeing as unitarian universalist has no deity and instead is centered on principals affirming harmony w life, we decided we would give it a whirl. again, the first ppl to approach and smile from the depths of their beings at us were patsy nixon and sam.
when sam told me that he was a professional storyteller, i laughed and said “well i am a professional philosopher!” he cocked his head then belted a laugh. little did i know at the time that i was standing face to face with one of the best oral storytellers of modern times.
here’s the deal-sam has parkinsons disorder. the decreased amount of dopamine causes all kinds of visible, physical manifestations-tremors, rigidity, loss of muscle tone and loss of physical indicators of response to emotion-affect. not only does it effect a person physically, but cognitively, mentally and emotionally, also. dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released during pleasurable events, acting as a reward stimulant. when you see something that makes you happy you release a certain amount of dopamine. it does all kinds of other stuff-kidney regulations, gi regulations, vascular functions, but let’s focus on the apparent functions of dopamine. it makes you feel good and when you are low on dopamine you are down when you are high on dopamine you are up (the opposite end of parkinsons is schizophrenia) it is an extremely necessary chemical for emotional stability. when i was suffering from the psuedo-parkinsons i felt nothing-no happiness, no saddness, no regret, nothing except a constant urging fear that was all consuming. i showed no emotion, i couldn’t physically lift my lips to smile or wrinkle my forehead, i didn’t cry. i was a blank face.
sam, somehow, is still functioning as an emotional creature. he laughs, he cries, he gets angry-though not very often- he loves. sam meditates daily, probably more than that, and has attributed meditation to his emotional well-being. but not just that….he reads everything all the time. reads and comprehends, something i was completely unable to do, if i responded to stimuli i was having a reactive day! the man reads just about everything he can get his hands on about neurology, psychology, philosophy, history, astrophysics-everything!!!!! he stands in front of hundreds of ppl in his beanie and suspenders telling stories that are so meaningful you think about them for days and days trying to uncover all the hidden jewels he left for you. he is interactive and social! he is hysterical and poignant. and despite the fact that his eyes are a bit sunk in, which is a normal thing for those w parkinsons, they twinkle like tinted glass in the sun. he is a lovely man!
when i was suffering, i could see it was hard on everyone. noone reacts the same way to you when you are sick. they look at you w caution bc you are not who you were, it’s that simple. everyone tiptoed around me, and had that look of reserved sympathy, sometimes holding back tears missing the person who should be standing before them. everyone treated me like this-except sam. sam would say “kiddo, i hope you don’t have parkinsons. it looks like you might. that is sad in someone your age. here read this book!” he gave me a book full catastrophe living. it was a book about dealing w disease, using meditation to cope with life on life’s terms. to be 100% honest i didn’t get past the preface. i was not at all willing to look at my life in that way. i was not ok to say, “well this is how it is, make the best of it!” not to mention my comprehension level was down so far i couldn’t understand the sun rising in the east anymore.
i don’t know how i feel today about being sick. i know i am pissed, scared, sad, and scared. but for right now i think about sam, and i think, if that old codger (an elderly man who is often eccentric-correct definition of codger) can make it so can i! if sam can thrive and grow, not just breathe and survive, i can do this.
we don’t go to the local uu church anymore. but i miss sam. i miss him very much! he is my friend!