I checked out the boarding area for my flight from Paris to Strasbourg. I found the right gate, but there was no plane in sight. Then I spotted a tiny commuter plane underneath the boarding gate. It was a long time ago when tight security meant that nobody was allowed on board while carrying a burning cigarette. Keeping your shoes on was de rigueur, even in Paris, in the 1960s.
I had just started to use my grandpa’s walking stick for balance because stairways and aisles began going one way while my feet went another. I didn’t have any idea that this new lurching was the calling card of a neurological disorder that’s now called MSA, multiple system atrophy.
In those times of jolly travel nobody challenged my walking sticks, including one with a lead weight embedded inside its head. When it revealed itself on a scanner, security folks heard my explanation and shooed me on.
It wasn’t the lead-headed walking stick that got me in trouble in Strasbourg. It was my careless wave to a uniformed fellow to help me get my luggage to a taxi. It was careless because the uniform was not, as I thought, being worn by a skycap. It was worn by a customs inspector who showed me how dutifully a visitor’s bags can be examined, one thing after another. The inspector was not a cousin, and he saw in me the family attributes a Hatfield spots in McCoys.
My grandpa’s walking stick was a gift to him from my dad, and both would have laughed at my French faux pas. Family members are quick to laugh when a cousin qualifies for America’s Funniest Home Videos, and just as quick to reach out with helping hands when help is needed.
More than a year ago my daughter and son-in-law, Marie and Mark Veldman, invited me to move in with them. My MSA symptoms were showing off, I was living alone and my 90th birthday was coming up. The invitation was dandy for me, but absorbing the closest, most talented, most loving, most healthy and most agreeable relative into the home of a married couple with children is not without jangled moments. Marie and Mark were not, as you know, dealing with the closest, most talented, most loving, most healthy and most agreeable person. But all those adjectives apply to them; they have made my time with them a happy rehearsal for what the Eternal has in store.
They do my shopping, fix my meals, handle my errands, make sure that my clothes are clean, mail my letters and do just about everything that gets done for me here in this house. They’ve already done such things for their five children, Dan, Kristen, Michael, Matt and Katie. The things they do as physicians for countless patients impact the lives of people and families, too.
Over on the California coast my son John and his wife, Pam Heyda, are a kind of golden gate to me. Up near Seattle my son David and his wife, Toni, and their son Jacob, are rocks of reassurance. I wish everyone were as lucky as I am. I probably don’t have to tell you that I love them all, even third cousins and beyond. They are why MSA doesn’t matter.